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.
We took a trip up to Hexham, I spent half an hour wandering around the Abbey. As you walk into the Abbey you are faced with a Roman Tombstone, discovered in 1881, it is a memorial to Flavinus, a standard bearer. The carving depicts Flavinus riding over, what I presume is, a native Briton, the victors boot planted on his victims backside. The triumphs of past conquests are often displayed our churches, it is rare to see a memorial depicting our own islands conquest and defeat.
The original Saxon church was built using stone from nearby Roman sites. The church has been attacked many times during raids by the Vikings and later the Scots.
To the left of the High Altar is the Leschman Chantry Chapel, containing the tomb of Rowland Leschman, Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491. The carvings on the tomb are an absolute joy.
St Mary’s Church in Cowlam is a beautiful little church located in a farmyard to the north of the current hamlet of Cowlem. The current church was rebuilt in 1852 on the site of the old church. The original village of Cowlam now only exists as a number of earthworks, it was decimated by the Black death, by 1690 only the parson and two shepherds were left.
My interest in this little church was sparked last year when I was looking through John Piper’s photographs on the Tate website and saw this.
The Norman font is located just beside the main door, I walked into the church and was immediately transfixed by it, it is stunning. Pevsner describes the carving as ‘crude’, Rita Wood is a little kinder and calls it ‘naive but dogged and consistent. I don’t know about such things, to me it is a thing of great beauty.
The carvings themselves depict the Adoration of the Magi, Adam and Eve with the tree and serpent, an angel, two wrestlers, a Bishop and King Herod and a man holding a dagger. When I got home I realised that I’d not taken a photograph of Herod. The other scenes are all shown below
This lovely church is currently under threat of closure and the fate of this wonderful font is unknown. If the church is closed the already failing fabric of the church will undoubtably leave it a ruin. There is currently a campaign running to try and save the church. Churches like this are not only places of worship, they are important custodians of our culture and history, some even contain nationally important artefacts, such as this beautiful font. Perhaps you could visit their Facebook page and help support their campaign.
The Buildings of England Yorkshire: York and the East Riding – Nikolaus Pevsner and David Neave. 1997