I called in at Adel yesterday, the church was closed. This is normally the point where I have a rant about locked churches but I can’t moan about Adel, the church welcomes visitors daily, I just arrived at the wrong time.
Copper & Henges
On a sunny Lammas morning I decided to take a drive over to Middleton Tyas. I parked up at the lovely church of St. Michael and All Angels.
‘The majestic N arcade has six bays with round piers (except for one octagonal one), scallop captials, square abaci, and single-step arches, i.e. must date from before 1150.‘ N. Pevsner
The lepers window and priests door have been blocked, I love this beautiful irregular walling.
A fragment of a Saxon Cross and a carved spiral an an exterior wall stone hint at a much older church being here prior to the arrival of the Normans.
One the church wall stones is copper-stained, The presence of veins of copper in the local rocks is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.
Records show that copper has been mined in this area since at least the 15th century and continued until the 18th century. Yields were generally low but copper concentrations from Middleton Tyas ores were found to be up to 65% pure, making them some of the highest grade ores in Europe.
The fields around the church are dotted with earthworks know as shaft mounds. These were vertical shafts sunk to the level of the copper veins, these shafts are also known as bell pits.
In the woods beneath the church are the ruins of a mine pump house and workshops. There are a number of sites in this area where veins of copper have been found. We know that copper was used extensively by our ancestors, so I suppose the question is, were these sites exploited during prehistory?
Fieldwork at the Iron Age royal site of Stanwick revealed evidence of copper working. Excavations at Melsonby and Scotch Corner have also revealed evidence of copper smelting in the Roman Period. ‘Excavations in 2015 at Scotch Corner suggest that its Flavian inhabitants were engaged in metalworking, perhaps exploiting copper from nearby Middleton Tyas: if so, the odds that this source were already being exploited in the pre-Roman period must be considerably shortened.’ C. Hazelgrove Et al.
A later excavations, as part of the A1 widening scheme, of the Iron Age settlement at Scotch Corner discovered hundreds of fragments of moulds known as pellet moulds. These moulds were used to manufacture small metal balls, the balls were then used as blanks for coin production. Analysis of the moulds showed evidence of gold, silver and copper. Pits have also been discovered at Scotch Corner that may indicate that the inhabitants were prospecting for copper locally. There was also evidence of copper processing in the same area.
There has been no physical evidence found of prehistoric copper working at Middleton Tyas but mining is a destructive process, later workings may have destroyed any evidence of previous workings.
What we do know is that there was definitely evidence of prehistoric activity in this area dating as far back as the end of the last Ice Age. There is plenty of evidence to show that this area was occupied during the Neolithic and Bronze ages, a prehistoric burial mound, known as Five Hills, sits in woodland on the northern edge of the village.
In 2016 a newly discovered henge was spotted on a LIDAR survey. The henge is located on the outskirts of the village of Moulton just 2km to the south of Middleton Tyas.
Moving further south, a wealth of prehistoric monuments have been found. A large cursus monument was discovered at Scorton, 6km south of Middleton Tyas, most traces of it have now been lost to gravel extraction. The monument was comprised of two double ditches 32m apart, 1m deep and from 2 to 3m wide, it ran for over 1.5km across the landscape, later work has suggested that the Cursus may have been even longer. Another possible cursus, a palisaded enclosure, a timber circle, a chambered cairn and a henge are just some of the prehistoric monuments that have been found around Catterick, just 7km from Middleton Tyas.
The Catterick henge is of particular interest to me, on excavation it was found that the monument lacked an outer ditch and the oval bank of the monument was constructed using river cobbles from the nearby River Swale. What I find fascinating is the only other henge on mainland Britain that shares this construction method is Mayburgh henge, which is located beside the River Eamont on the outskirts of Penrith and less than half a kilometre from the modern A66. So, what we have is 2 henges close to rivers, located at either end of a trans-pennine route that is still in use today. Both The A1 and the A66 have a number henges located on or very close to their routes, the A1 corridor through North Yorkshire has at least 8. This implies that these two modern roads, a major north-south route and a major east-west route probably have their origins in prehistory.
The trans-pennine route would also have provided access to the Irish Sea, there are prehistoric monuments in Ireland that share similarities in construction and style with the henges at Mayburgh and Catterick. Perhaps this indicates connections with communities in Ireland. Access to the west coast could also provide a potential route for Cornish or Breton Tin to travel eastwards across the Pennines, allowing North Yorkshire metalworkers to manufacture Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire: The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. 1966. Penguin Books.
Cartimandua’s Capital/ The late Iron Age royal site at Stanwick. Colin Haselgrove Et al. CBA Research Report 175. 2016
Catterick Racecourse, N. Yorkshire, The reuse and adaptation of a monument from prehistoric to Anglian times. C. Moloney et Al. Archaeological Services (WYAS) Publications 4. 2003
Living Between the Monuments: The prehistory of the Dishforth to Barton A1 Motorway Improvements. G Speed. 2021. Northern Archaeological Associates.
The Penrith henges: a survey by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England. P Topping. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, 1992
Bronze images – Early Man in North-East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930. J Bellows
Helmsley & Hawnby…not quite Damascus
Nikolaus Pevsner describes All Saints Church, Helmsley as ‘big and self confident, in the C13 style’.
It is always a good sign when the church entrance looks like this.
Stepping into the church is a joy, there are beautiful, bright, colourful murals everywhere.
The Victorian restorers of the church not only retained elements of the earlier church, they also added to them. The beakheads and outer order of the chancel arch are modern as are many other ‘romanesque’ features both within and on the exterior of the church, Rita Wood calls them ‘Heavy handed Victorian additions’, I quite like them.
The capital on the left side of the chancel arch has three heads carved on it, one creature emitting foliage and two small human heads, one wearing a pointy cap. The capital on the right side of the arch has a tiny head carved between the angle of the volutes.
This 10th century Hogback is a bit knocked about, the motif on the top is quite a rare design to find on a Hogback, it is known as a Key Pattern.
There are two chapels within the church, the south chapel is dedicated to Columba and has an altar made of what looks like Swaledale Fossil Limestone and may have come from the quarries at Barton. The North Chapel is dedicated to Aelred and has an altar made with Frosterley Marble from Weardale.
This striking painting is in the north chapel, it’s by Gabriel Max and is called St. Veronica’s Handkerchief. When I first saw the painting, the image was of Christ with his eyes closed, when I looked again his eyes were open. I found this rather disturbing, I was raised in a strict catholic household but have been an atheist, with the odd lapse into heathendom, for the past 45yrs. Was this to be my moment of conversion? was the shepherd calling me back to the fold?…then I read the notice beside the painting … ‘was painted in the middle of the 19th century, it is a form of art with a little trick, where the eyes of christ can be seen either open or closed‘…I laughed, relieved but also feeling slightly unnerved by the experience.
On reflection, I quite like the painting, it was inspired by a miraculous handkerchief that contained a perfect image of the face of Christ. As usual with these sort of Medieval relics, there were three in existence, all claiming to be the original. I suppose most religions have to rely on some form of smoke and mirrors when it comes to dealing with the supernatural.
All Saints is a wonderful church and well worth a visit if you are in the area. The history of the district is written all over its walls often in bold bright mural form. Architecturally it has embraced and built upon its past and is currently undergoing further exterior renovations. The church is open for visitors from 9-5 daily.
Driving home I remembered that in her book, Romanesque Yorkshire, Rita Wood compared the tiny carving of a man in a pointy cap to a carving in the church at Hawnby. Hawnby wasn’t too far from Helmsley so I decided to seek it out.
The Church at Hawnby, All Saints, can be found to the west of the village on the Kepwick road. The little church sits in an overgrown churchyard down by the River Rye, the setting is beautiful. The church is picturesque but architecturally fairly unremarkable, Pevsner describes it as ‘basically Norman‘. I found the carving located just inside the church door, it is lovely. Rita Wood thinks that it probably came from the chancel arch, who knows?
The Buildings of England. Yorkshire, The North Riding. Nikolaus Pevsner. Penguin Books. 1973
Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. Yorkshire Archaeological Society. Occasional Paper No.9. 2012
Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. Guy Points. Rihtspell Publishing. 2007
I, Orm the son of Gamal,
Found these fractured stones
Starting out of the fragrant thicket.
The river bed was dry.
The rooftrees naked and bleached,
Nettles in the nave and aisleways
On the altar an owl’s cast
And a feather from a wild dove’s wing.
There was peace in the valley:
Far into the eastern sea
The foe had gone, leaving death and ruin
And a longing for a priest’s solace.
Fast the feather lay
Like a sulky jewel in my head
Till I knew it had fallen in a holy place
Therefore I raised these grey stones up again
Tucked away in the secluded valley of the Hodge Beck is the ancient church of St Gregory. It is thought that there may have been a church on this site as early as the eighth century. A number of early crosses have can be seen built into the walls with further loose remnants held within the church including a quern
Above the south doorway is a sundial that reads, Orm Gamal’s son bought St. Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken down and fallen and he let it be made anew from the ground to Christ and St. Gregory, in Edward’s days, the king, and in Tosti’s days, the Earl. This is day’s Sun marker at every tide. And Haworth me wrought and Brand, priests. The sundial dates to just before the Norman Conquest, we know this because Tosti refers to Earl Tostig, Tostig Godwinson, the Earl of Northumbria from 1055-1065.
The church was restored in 1907 by Temple Moore, of the greatest Victorian church architects. A few elements from the early church can still be seen including the beautiful, tall, narrow Saxon south door, which was once an entrance but now leads into the tower, and a wonderful waterleaf capital.
Just across the valley from the church is the site of the famous Kirkdale Hyena Cave, a place of some significance in the history of the study of geology and evolutionary science. More of that another time.
Jellinge to the Jacobean
St. Andrew’s church at Haughton-le-Skerne is the oldest in Darlington and probably stands on the site of a previous Saxon Church. The church is essentially Norman and has a collection of early medieval carved stones.
I walked up to the porch, it was locked, my heart sank, I walked around to the west door, a big smile, not only an open door but a beautiful plain Norman arch and tympanum.
On entering the church things just got better, I was given a very warm welcome into the church by two lovely attendants who were sat in the baptistry on either side of this handsome font. The original font has gone but the beautiful Frosterly Marble base survives. We had a chat about this and that and I was shown around the church then left to wander.
In the nave there are a number of early medieval stones that have been built into the walls. The stones were found during the 1895 restoration. One of the carvings (bottom picture) stands out as being exceptionally good.
This piece establishes that the best carving from this site occurs with the most purely Scandinavian ornament. The ribbon animal panel on A is closely linked in style with Sockburn 8 and should date from an early stage after the introduction of the Jellinge-type style. It is possible that this piece was carved elsewhere, since it is the only piece from the site in this stone.
Another simple arch and plain tympanum leads into the porch and more remnants of carved stones including some knotwork and fragments of cross slabs. A blackbird has made its nest on a shelf, she watches me but does not move.
Back in the nave, the amount of 17th century woodwork is quite overwhelming. I’m told that this style is known as ‘Cosin woodwork’ named after Bishop Cosin of Durham. This style is unique to County Durham and is now quite rare. Nikolaus Pevsner dates the woodwork to the 1630’s and writes that ‘the church gives a very complete picture of that date.’
The chancel arch is Norman, its single-step simplicity reflects the entrance and porch arches. Below the arch on the left of the picture is a squint or ‘hagioscope’ designed as a viewing point between the nave and the chancel. Below the arch on the right side is a niche with the remains of an original pre-reformation fresco painting. This niche may have housed a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Displayed on a shelf in the south transept are a number of sheets of lead. These were removed from the tower roof. All date to the eighteenth century, three are outlines of shoes, one is a hand and another is an etching of a fully-rigged ship. All of the sheets are initialled, presumably by the craftsmen who repaired the roof at various times.
I would encourage you to visit this beautiful church. This Grade one listed church is warm and welcoming and proudly displays its rich history and heritage. The church is open for visitors every Wednesday 10am-4pm June til November.
The Buildings of England. County Durham. Nikolas Pevsner. 1953. Penguin Books.
Visitors booklet – available within the church.
The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture.
Dodging Storm Dudley on Dere Street
..with Mr Vasey
Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick
Howe Hill, Felixkirk
Howe Hill is a prominent mound in the centre of the village. It was previously thought to be a Norman earthwork or Motte but is actually a prehistoric burial mound dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age. The site is still marked on the modern maps as a Motte.
The barrow has a beautiful tree growing on it and sits upon a natural knoll that has been bisected by the main road into the village. The primary views from the barrow are to the west across the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Pennines.
There is a Norman connection with the village, the local church was rebuilt in the mid-nineteenth century contains a number of Romanesque carved stones including this lovely capital depicting foliate heads.
St Mary’s Whitby
The Abbey at Whitby was one of the earliest Romanesque buildings to be erected in the North of England but my focus today was on the neighbouring church of St Mary. A while ago my friend Chris Corner posted a picture of a head carved on a capital within the church, so on a whim, I headed over the storm-battered moor road to see what I could find.
I’ve visited this church many times in the past but this was prior to my explorations of Early Medieval stonework, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The south door with its arch and carved spiral capitals lifted my spirits.
Inside the church I made my way between the beautiful box pews to the chancel arch. The arch is mostly hidden behind the upper level, the lord of the manor’s pew. There is a second arch over the entrance to the tower but this has been completely hidden behind the organ.
On the capital of the left hand arch is a carving of a head emitting unfurling foliage. This bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Green Man’ carving in Marske Church.
There are other foliate heads to be found locally at Easington, Liverton and Lythe .
One of the capitals on the right hand side of the arch has a carved head with a star on either side. The star is not an uncommon motif on Northern English Early Medieval stonework.
There are other elements of early stone work to be found in and around this lovely church, coupled with the Abbey next door, it is a wonderful place to visit. For me, with the failing light and the howling gale of Storm Barra blowing across the clifftop, it was time to head for home.
St. Martin’s Church Kirklevington
The church at Kirklevington has been in existence since the early medieval period. The chancel is Medieval, the rest of the church was rebuilt during the nineteenth century. Many ancients stones were found during the rebuilding of the church and have been incorporated into the fabric of the church.
Inside the porch is the entrance arch to the church. The two orders are a bit of a hodge-podge of weathered stones. There are spirals carved onto the capitals and one has a carving of intertwined serpents which is quite hard to make out.
The Chancel Arch is much more satisfying. The left hand capital is beautifully carved with a man’s head, stars and spirals. Beside the capital is the carving of a lion. The capital on the right side is carved with a headless bird, beside it is a rather damaged carving that has been interpreted as an ox. There is a lovely booklet available at the church which informs us that these carving represent the four evangelists, Mark (lion), Mathew (the head), John (the bird), Luke (the ox).
There are quite a few Cross Slabs within the church. Cross slabs are difficult to date as they were used from the eleventh to the seventeenth century.
There are a number of stones embedded in the external walls including six chevroned stones which may have once formed part of an arch. I’m guessing these were left over from the rebuilding of the doorway arch.
This beautiful door handle is a nod to the ancient origins of the church.
A number of ancient carved stones were discovered during the rebuilding of the church. Many of the ancient cross fragments have been removed from the church and are currently being stored at the Preston Hall Museum, a few are on display. The stone below is part of a cross shaft and is probably my favourite local medieval stone. It is thought to depict the Norse god Odin and his two ravens Huginn and Muninn (thought and mind). Odin’s ravens would fly out into the world and report what they saw to Odin.
Why is Odin depicted on a christian cross?
The early medieval period was a time of transition from the Pagan religions of northern Europe to Christianity. Nothing was straightforward, Pagan kings would succeed Christian Kings and the Christian church itself was split between two traditions, the celtic church and the church of Rome.
It may seem odd to us to see pagan imagery on a Christian cross shaft but the people of the early medieval period would have recognised and understood this imagery. Odin would have been a familiar figure to not only the people of Scandinavian descent but also to people who’s ancestors had travelled to our area from northern Europe.
Odin was known in the Anglo Saxon world as Woden, perhaps Woden was also worshipped in our islands prior to the arrival of the Anglo Saxons. During the Roman occupation of Britain, the majority of the Roman army was comprised of Auxiliaries. These units were manned by soldiers from territories that had fallen to Roman conquest. The majority of the Auxiliaries in our islands were composed of men from northern Europe, lands where Woden was a primary deity.
The Roman tradition was not to suppress the local belief in the gods of the lands they were conquering, they would associate local gods with Roman gods who possessed similar attributes, Woden/Odin was associated with the god Mercury because of his role on guiding the dead to the afterlife. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that the Northern European tribes worshipped Mercury. Wednesday (Wodin’s Day) is known in Latin as Mercurii dies (‘Day of Mercury’).
This carving has been interpreted as portraying the god Mercury, is in the church at Aldborough, the church is said to have been built on the site of a Roman shrine.
It’s an interesting aside to look at Odin and Jesus. Given the evidence, it is fairly safe to assume that Odin may have originated in an older, shamanic-based belief system, if we detach ourselves from our christian assumptions we may also see similar shamanic elements in the life of Jesus.
In becoming a shaman there is generally a requirement for a ritual death and rebirth. Odin achieved this by hanging himself on a tree, Jesus was hung on a cross and then descended into the underworld before being reborn. Whilst on the tree, Odin pierced himself with his spear, whilst Jesus was on the cross he too was pierced with a spear.
Shamans are generally wanderers who undertake spirit journeys, Odin famously wandered in search of enlightenment, Jesus wandered with his small group of followers throughout his later life, the bible records his forty day solo journey into the Sinai desert without food or water. Both Jesus and Odin possessed the ability to speak to and raise the dead, Odin using his magic, Jesus by miraculous means, magic by a different name?
Perhaps the people of the past saw these similarities too. The early Christian church was very different to the church of today, the early Christian world was a place of mystics, demons, miracles, monks and local saints, many of who may have previously followed a pagan tradition.
Odin is thought to have hung himself on Yggdrasil, the world tree. The Pagans of northern Europe also had a world tree, Irminsul. These trees may have had their origins in the shamanic tradition where they symbolised the shaman’s journey between realms. Perhaps the cross represented the same idea to the early christians, an axis between the realms of heaven, earth and the underworld.
Anglian & Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the North Riding of Yorkshire. W.G. Collingwood. YAJ Vol.19. 1907
Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. G Points. 2007
Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9 Rita Wood. 2012
Archaeological Trail. St Martin’s Church. Kirklevington. A pamphlet available from the church.
Yggdrasil Image – Oluf Bagge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to Gary & Kate for arranging access to their lovely church.
Osmotherley – St. Peter’s Church
The Romanesque arch, weather-beaten but recognisable.
The ghost of a Beakhead
The Norman font, uncomplicated with a cable pattern below the rim.
A protection mark? A saltire scratched into the underside of the arch resembles similar motifs carved into the witch posts of the moorland villages.
An Anglo-Saxon crosshead.
Regarding the grooves on the porch wall behind the cross head. These grooves are found on many of the walls of old churches throughout Europe. Tradition has it that they were caused by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads prior to Sunday archery practice. In some parts of the country these stones are referred to as ‘Arrow Stones’. This seems like a highly unlikely explanation, the nature of the grooves would probably only serve to blunt a blade rather than sharpen it
Another possible, and more likely explanation for the grooves, is that they were caused by people collecting grit and dust from the church for use in folk medicines and ritual preparations. Any part of the fabric of a consecrated building, including water from the roof, was thought to have curative powers for both people and their livestock. The practice of collecting materials from a church, to use as a cure for all manner of ills, has been documented across Europe.
There is an old house on Marske High Street that has similar grooves on its external walls. I was told that it was once a schoolhouse and the grooves were caused by pupils sharpening their slate pencils on the building walls. An alternative explanation is that perhaps these stones were recycled from a previous building such as St. Germain’s Church or the medieval manor house that once existed on the outskirts of the town.
This cross shaft is thought to be Anglo-Danish. There is also the remains of an Anglo-Danish Hogback grave cover in the porch but it is is very eroded and barely recognisable.
Asmundrelac 1086 Domesday Book
‘Asmund’s clearing’…A hybrid formation with a Norse inflexion of the of the first element suggests very intimate association of the Norse and Anglian speech.The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire by A.H. Smith 1928