Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m especially interested in particularly old and unusual graves, and the subject of today’s post definitely falls into that category. On the windswept Lancashire coast, six graves carved into solid rock have survived for over 1,000 years, remarkable survivors at an ancient site where it is thought that pilgrims came to venerate St Patrick in the Anglo-Saxon period. These are the rock-cut tombs of Heysham, some of the finest relics of early Christianity to be found in the north west of England.
St Mary’s Church in Beverley, East Yorkshire, would probably be more well-known were it not for the famous and imposing Gothic Minster that also graces the town. Even when compared to that grand building – which houses the shrine of St John of Beverley – St Mary’s Church is still impressive: it is one of the largest parish churches in Britain, a Grade I listed building, and has been in existence since the 12th Century, although the main fabric of the church dates from later than that. It is a truly beautiful example of medieval Gothic architecture. It was while exploring the church’s beautiful exterior, taking in the many carvings and details in the stonework, that I came across an intriguing memorial.
As a native of Lancashire, I always return to my hometown of Preston to visit my family at Christmas, and one bright Sunday morning I visited the nearby village of Ribchester, probably best known as an old Roman fort. I often visited this place as a child, as there was (and still is) an excellent children’s playground there. We would also inevitably visit the ruins of the Roman bath house, which were not fenced off and to a small child presented an exciting labyrinth of tumbled stones and low walls to clamber over. In Roman times, Ribchester was called Bremetenacum Veteranorum – a possible translation of this is “the hilltop settlement of the veterans.” Some ruins of the fort, including the bath house and granaries, can still be seen today, and many buildings in the village are built with reused Roman stones and columns.
It’s a little known fact that more of the City of London’s churches were demolished during peacetime than were destroyed during the Blitz. As London expanded, the population of the Square Mile declined. Fifty one of the eighty-seven churches consumed by the Great Fire of 1666 had been rebuilt, but as the City’s population dwindled during the 19th and 20th Centuries, congregations fell and many churches became surplus to requirements.
However, as you make your way along the Chertsey Road in Twickenham, towards the famous rugby stadium, an unexpected sight looms into view: a baroque Christopher Wren church tower. This is one of the lost City churches, All Hallows Lombard Street, reborn as a suburban parish church.
It’s easy to look at a map of the British Isles and assume that the outline of land that’s so familiar to us has been that way for millennia. However, the coastline – particularly in the east – has changed dramatically over the centuries, partly due to human intervention (such as the draining of marshy areas) and partly due to the forces of nature. Often, these changes are quite gradual and happen over many years (for example, towns on the Norfolk coast that have been gradually disappearing into the sea over many decades and centuries), but sometimes, a storm or other natural disaster could change the fortunes of coastal towns overnight. New Romney in Kent is one of these places. Once a thriving and important port, a terrible storm in 1287 cut off the town’s lifeline.
Over a doorway on one of the City of London’s many Wren churches is something really quite special. A large but intricate carving depicts the Last Day – the figure of Christ presides over the dead, who are rising up from their coffins in preparation for the final judgement.
I visited the Lune Valley again recently, that picturesque corner of Lancashire that I’ve found to be rich in history and fascinating old churches. This visit was no different – driving into the village of Hornby, a striking octagonal church tower caught my attention. Stopping to explore this church and the church situated opposite uncovered the stories of two men with strong links to Hornby who both made their mark on history.