Wade & The Old Wife

A few weeks ago I was at a wedding at St. John the Baptist’s Church in Egglescliffe. In the porch of the church I noticed what Iooked to be a horned head carved into a stone beside the inner door, I then noticed another head carved onto the same stone. The only written reference I can find to the carved heads is in a 1993 Archaeological Assessment of the church which states that The imposts are chamfered beneath, and carried by jamb shafts with carved capitals (much worn) bearing simple volutes on the faces and human heads on the angle. 

To me, the head carved beneath the ‘volute’ may actually be an element of the original carving, possibly representing a horned character. Had the heads been carved after the volute they would have been carved into the stone rather than in bas-relief. I cannot say this with any certainty but it’s an intriguing thought.

Egglescliffe heads Egglescliffe heads i

There are a number of ancient stones in the porch, one that caught my eye was a stone is described in The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture

A (broad): Surrounded by wide grooved mouldings. Above a horizontal grooved moulding is a winged motif divided by a double vertical band which terminates in plant or scroll motifs. Above this may be the legs of two figures. No trace of decoration on the lower panel survives.

B (narrow) and C (broad): Tooled away. Possible traces of a grooved moulding on right edge of B.

D (narrow): A grooved moulding edges the shaft and divides it into two panels horizontally. The lower part of the upper panel bears a crude incised plant-scroll with a drop leaf falling from a coil. No trace of decoration on the lower panel survives.

Egglescliffe wayland Egglescliffe waylandi

In the discussion section of the Corpus is the following

This piece is clearly linked with Anglo-Scandinavian ornament. The strange motif on face A may be abstract (see Burton in Kendal, Westmorland: Collingwood 1927, fig. 195) or part of a draped figure (see Leeds: ibid., fig. 194; or York, Newgate: Pattison 1973, pl. 42). These motifs have also been interpreted as Weland and his flying machine: Lang 1972. The thick scrolls are also found at Burton in Kendal and at Chester-le-Street (no. 9, face C). Whether this winged creature is thought of as Weland or not, the combination of the bound element and the incised scrolls reflects Anglo-Scandinavian fashion.

Weland was the son of the giant Wade, his mother was Walchilt, a giant who lived beneath the sea. Wade is a well-known figure in local folklore. He is said to be responsible for, along with his wife, Bell, the creation of many of our moorland landscape features including Freebrough Hill, Blakey and Roseberry Toppings, he is also credited with building Mulgrave and Pickering Castles. The Roman road over Wheeldale bears his name and there are two standing Stones at Goldsborough known as Wade’s Stone.

It always thrills me to find local connections to the god/giant Wade. He features in both Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythologies and probably entered into the local folklore when these communities settled Northern England. What we may never know is who was the god that existed before Wade, who did the Britons believe created the landscape. I believe clues to the identity of this god may be found in the folklore of the Scottish highlands as this area remained fairly untainted by Continental influences. The deity responsible for the creation of many landscape features in these tales was the mother, warrior, hag, virgin, conveyor of fertility, the Cailleach. Professor Annie Ross describes the Cailleach as;

More static and more archaic than the gods, she remained tied to the land for which she was responsible and whose most striking natural features seemed to her worshippers to be manifestations of her power and personality.

I have previously written about the Cailleach’s connection to the area here The Old Wife’s Well

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