Bosham

Some time ago now, I posted my comic about the story of the Bosham Bells.

I recently had the chance to return to Bosham and revisit the church that features in this story.

The village of Bosham sits on Chichester Harbour.

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The earliest parts of Holy Trinity Church date from the Saxon period, though there are many additions of Norman and later medieval date. The church is featured in the Bayeux Tapestry, and a replica of this section, made in memory of a local resident, hangs on the wall.

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When I visited the church as child, the feature that most fascinated me was the memorial to King Cnut’s daughter.

Though I also liked going down the short set of steps into the church’s crypt.

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This time, I noticed the evidence of graffiti and traces of wall paintings.

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As well as the font, which had once been kept covered “to ensure the Holy Water was not stolen for witchcraft”.

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I didn’t get to hear the bells in the church, but I went outside to the graveyard, looked up at the bell tower and remembered how, when I was six or seven, I had stood at the edge of the water and strained my ears to hear the great bell calling from the bottom of  Bosham Deep.

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Dr H

 

The Devil and Dartmoor

Buckfast Abbey detail

I’ve recently returned from The Past in its Place conference, held at Buckfast Abbey, Dartmoor. The conference was organised as part of an interdisciplinary research project exploring  the ‘history of memory’ in a range of English and Welsh locales from the early medieval period down to the modern era.

I heard many excellent papers at the conference, and have come away more interested than ever in the different art styles and forms of documentation and communication produced in the past. My own contribution was a short paper about the growing role of comics in communicating academic research to a wider audience, as well as their potential use within academia. (Anyone interested in this subject should think about coming along to the Applied Comics meet up in London on May 9th.)

Devil in Dartmoor

I also created a comic for the conference (more on this soon), narrating two stories connected to the great lightning storm that struck Widecombe-in-the-Moor church in 1638. One of these stories is a folktale, which sees the Devil descending on the moors in order to claim the soul a local sinner.

The Devil was no stranger to Dartmoor, if the placenames and folklore of the area are to be believed. Among his many activities, the Devil seems to have taken an interest in trying to disrupt the building of churches in the area. As part of the workshop, we walked up the hill from Buckfast Abbey, to the site of Holy Trinity Church, Buckfastleigh. According to legend, 196 steps were built leading to the church in order to place the church out of the reach of the Devil, who was prone to pulling down at night any building work completed during the day.

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The church is also the burial place of Squire Richard Cabell, whose extremely dubious reputation led to tales of him rampaging around the countryside with a pack of hellhounds after his death in 1677. The folklore associated with the squire may (or may not) have provided part of the inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The church has a complex and troubled history – incidents of body snatchers, lightning strikes, damage from bomb blasts, fires and rumours of satanic rites (see here for a full account). Following a devastating fire in 1992, the church was reduced to a shell, open to the elements.

P1090021On the day when we visited, the Devil seemed to be far away.

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The sun shone and the graveyard was carpeted with flowers.

P1090018Watched by the jackdaws that nest in the church, we explored the ruins.

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Everywhere, plants and tiny saplings, tried to claim the building.

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P1090029On a sunny spring day, the site was beautiful.

Still, I would not wish to go there at night, or suffer the consequences of running around the squire’s tomb seven times widdershins.

Dr H

What I’m Reading…

Fluid Pasts: archaeology of flow by Matt Edgeworth

This is a book about the archaeology of rivers. Like my previous book review,  it only has a tangential relationship to prehistory; it’s mostly a book about Medieval archaeology. Matt Edgeworth writes about the archaeological evidence for interactions with rivers. His main point is that this should not be seen as a cultural intervention on a natural phenomenon, but a human engagement with the dynamics of flow. He provides a number of fascinating accounts of how Medieval towns, such as Wallingford (Oxfordshire) or Hemington (Leicestershire), engaged with, and diverted the flow of rivers, sometimes for engineering purposes, occasionally for defence, or for subsistence – the river at Hemington contained fish traps positioned in the direction of flow of the river. Who knew that Medieval river management could be so interesting? I was gripped; this is a really concise, clearly written account.

The book has a section on the prehistory of rivers that argues that there was minimal engagement with rivers during British prehistory. I’m not sure I agree, especially when we consider the vast number of artefact deposits in rivers, think of the numbers of artefacts from the Thames from the Mesolithic to Iron Age. My point, though, is not to dispute Edgeworth’s argument – in fact he is saying something quite remarkable about how human communities interact with their environment. Flow, whether of rivers, of human movement through landscapes, of actions of working natural materials should all be regarded as processes that involve working with (not against) the environment. So the book offers some important lessons about how we should be thinking about archaeological interpretation, whatever period of the past we are interested in. A highly recommended read.

Dr A