Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Quartet of Old Lytham Photographs (or, as the case might be, three old photographs and one greyscale painting)

Please Note: The numerous projects with which we're involved (sleeping, drinking, and eating being some of the top priorities) have, once again, got the better of me so, for the time being at any rate, this board is taking another breather. No doubt we'll be back again before too long. In the meantime the forum's still open for business and Wyre Archaeology's relentless destruction of Lancashire's green and pleasant fields continues apace. Here's the last posting for now, but keep dropping back every so often won't you, because I'm sure we'll return eventually.

Let’s stick with facts this week and keep the speculations/pointless asides under wraps. People have been complaining, apparently, that I take our local history far too flippantly. Oddly enough, these complaints don’t appear to have originated from anybody who’s tracked down an Iron Age settlement or Roman road recently, but who’s checking? History belongs to everyone, I suppose, even those who consider it to be a matter of life and death, so, tongue out of cheek again sharpish; here’s the serious version of events.
This is Lytham Hall. (Was that formal enough, do you reckon?)

Work began on the building in 1751 from the designs of ‘Carr of York’, and was completed in 1764. The Manor of Lytham itself was originally held by Earl Tostig (King Harold’s rebellious brother killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066) before being granted by the Lord of Woodplumpton (Richard Fitz Roger) to the Monastery of Durham in 1190. (Is everyone following this closely? There might be questions at the end. Probably not…but you never know.)
The site of the hall became the monks’ priory, but was abandoned before the dissolution reached town, the prior renting the manor off in 1539 to somebody called Thomas Dannett (I don’t know who he was…go and check out the genealogical sites if you’re that interested) on an eighty-year lease.
In 1554, well before the lease had actually expired, Thomas Holcroft (whoever he was as well) bought the manor from the crown.
Green Drive Lodge, shown below (er…obviously) was one of the two gatehouses to Lytham Hall.

The Clifton family (of Lytham Hall…or did I mention that?) also owned nearby Witch Wood on the edge of the estate. The wood, unfortunately, wasn’t frequented by mysterious brunette maidens without their cuddies on (Steady…you’re degenerating into flippancy again! Ed) but was actually named after one of the family’s favourite horses. The Witch’s burial place is marked by a gravestone, and has spooked many an unwitting rambler.
Onwards, to the launch of Lytham lifeboat.

In 1839 John Rye, following the loss of several fishing vessels in Clovelly, founded the Shipwrecked Mariners Society. From 1851 the society operated lifeboats at Lytham, Portmadoc, Hornsea, Tenby, Llanelly, Teignmouth, Rhyl and Newhaven but eventually became two separate organizations, one concentrating on rescuing lives while the other helped bereaved families.
In 1854 the Society transferred its lifeboats to the R.N.L.I.
And finally for this week, the all important (and extremely serious) donkey rides on Lytham Beach.

According to John Porter’s ‘History of the Fylde’ (published in 1876) during the nineteenth century slightly more upmarket races, involving the pick of the local farmers’ horses, were held on the Green every Whit Monday.
The races took place on the sward between the windmill and an old limekiln approximately one mile north towards the hamlet of Saltcotes. Porter records that: “These races, which are described as having being very fair contests, were kept up for many years. The prizes competed for were saddles, bridles, whips etc.”
There…honour satisfied -- an entire article without one flippant remark. Hopefully that should keep those dour antiquarians with nothing better to complain about quiet for a few days at least.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Brief History of St. Michael’s Church…at St. Michaels (Part Two)

Last week we ended (perhaps a bit abruptly but who’s checking) with a mention of various mediaeval bits of stained glass in the Butler Chapel.
The Butler Chapel, itself, was founded in 1480 by John Butler of Rawcliffe Hall.
Worth a mention at this point is the gargoyle carved into the exterior window boss of the Butler Chapel. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t exactly been gentle with the sandstone, but it’s still quite clear that this hooded peasant has his feet planted firmly against the wall above his head, his arms down by his ears and his big, bare ar…bottom exposed to the general public.

Exactly why the Butler Chapel windows are decorated in this manner is a mystery. One possibility is that the figure’s an acrobat whose robes have ridden up in mid-performance. (Yeah…right.) Another is that, because windows were positioned above garderobes (or poop chutes) in mediaeval times, our peasant might be performing his ablutions away from the congregation. (And onto a nearby grave…)
Whatever the truth, it’s certainly a cheeky performance. (Copyright Mediaeval Jokes Shane Richie Inc.)
Sticking with the Butler Chapel a bit longer, I’d just like to throw this image into the scrum.

We’ve no idea who this is meant to be. Is it some king or other? Possibly a bishop? Perhaps even old Butler himself? Whoever it is, there’s a few of these heads about, looking considerably more kempt than the rest of the carvings, so perhaps they’re relatively modern? If anybody reading this knows who they’re meant to be…well, you know where the comments box is.
Onwards and upwards, and St Michael’s church tower was built about two decades earlier than the Butler Chapel, in 1459 when John Singleton donated forty shillings for the building of a steeple.
He also donated ten shillings towards the bells, one of which, dated 1458, most likely resulted from this donation. According to the ‘Victoria County History’: “There may be portions of an older structure in the north wall of the chancel and at the west end of the south aisle adjoining the tower, the masonry of which may date from the thirteenth century.”
Yeah, we reckon that’s about right, although the masonry is probably earlier even than that. Pre-conquest, we’d hazard a guess at. The stonework of the tower clearly shows that it was built onto an earlier ground floor structure and, as the diagram showing the church’s layout below demonstrates, said structure is/was/always has been crooked to the main body of the church.

Those dates are the ones supplied by the Victoria County History incidentally, not necessarily ours. However, invariably, when you get a tower (or at least the lower half of tower) built skewed to the main body of a church like that, it’s because the tower (or rather the lower part of it) was originally a much earlier, less architecturally aesthetic church in its own right, the main bulk of the church being tagged to it later.
It’s probably much the same in this case, the lower part of the tower possibly being the original pre-Norman Saxon church from which the village of St Michael’s takes it name. In fact, if you look in the churchyard, there’s a sundial standing on the base of what would once have been the churchyard cross.

Take a look at that base. Three steps, see? That’s typically Saxon, is that. (They’re a bit on the knackered side too, having been stapled together with big iron bolts if memory serves, testament to how worn they’ve become over the centuries.)
Similar to St. Helen’s (the parish church of Garstang), in 1856 during repairs to the plasterwork in St Michael’s sanctuary an early fourteenth century mural was discovered. Despite being damaged the faint image of Mary’s haloed head (along with those of several apostles) can still be seen watching Christ’s feet as he ascends into heaven. Unfortunately, when we went to take a photograph it was bucketing down outside and the church itself was in pitch-blackness. So we didn’t bother.
I think (and you can correct me if I’m wrong about this) there are a few words in English accompanying the scene, indicating that the text was taken from the King James Bible. The fact that it was whitewashed was probably down to Cromwell or someone, so perhaps St Michael’s did bear direct witness to some turbulent history after all.
On which uplifting note, it’s time to stop.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Brief History of St. Michael’s Church…at St. Michaels (Part One)

Pevsner, the British travel writer -- by which I mean he travelled around Britain and wrote about it, not that he was British and travelled abroad writing about foreign places…although he was British…and he might even have travelled abroad and written about foreign places for all I know…look, you’ve either heard of him or you haven’t, so bear with me on this -- once described St. Michael’s Church (in St. Michael’s, of course) as: “A typical late mediaeval North Country church.”
Which shows what he knew, because it’s a damned sight earlier than late mediaeval.

In fact, St. Michael’s was the only church in the Wyre to be mentioned by name in William the Conqueror’s big fat ledger of ill-gotten gains the Domesday Book (although there are actually several other churches around the district referred to in brief…just not by name) making it early mediaeval rather than late.
The vicars’ board inside the church confirms this by listing its ministers all the way back to 1196, so it’s at least 800 years old, you see, and probably more.
Because of its long history you’d naturally expect to find plenty of relics in situ, so let’s start with the door on the north side of the chancel, which dates back to the Norman period, or about 1,000 years ago for anybody who doesn’t know about these things…quite a long time when you stop to consider it.

Imagine the history that arch has seen. The Wars of the Roses, Vikings, Cromwell fighting the Royalists, the Jacobites rampaging through the churchyard with their swords rattling and their kilts flying…or possibly none of those things, because St Michael’s is a bit of a quiet nook really when I stop to think about it. Nonetheless, it’s stood through all those various historic events, as well as the Spanish Armada, Henry VIII and his six wives, Agincourt et al…even if it didn’t witness them personally.
The pointed arch, regardless of Pevsner’s somewhat dismissive attitude, of course, is typical of early mediaeval/Norman architecture.
Tradition dictates that the site of the church is even older. Tradition generally does with these matters, although on this occasion it’s probably right.
One of the earliest remaining sections is the bricked-up lancet window near the front door. Like the leper’s squint at St. Helens this window was originally used to pass alms to lepers outside.

Let’s talk about lepers for a moment, because they’re always good for a laugh (so long as you don’t know any lepers personally, of course, in which case it’s not an amusing matter at all really). If the disease wasn’t horrific enough by itself, lepers throughout the Middle Ages were considered unclean by those more fortunate.
They were forced to wear distinguishing clothes, rattle clappers and carry bowls to warn people of their approach (a bit like football fans nowadays, with their distinctive football strips, clappers and KFC boxes…only not as menacing).
Originally healthy people pitied them, but, as the problem became more widespread, the church, with its usual tact, declared that leprosy was God’s punishment against sinners. Lepers soon fell into the same category as Jews, prostitutes, homosexuals and witches (all terrible affronts to decent human beings, I’m sure you’ll agree).
Naturally such an attitude only applied to peasant lepers, aristocratic lepers being regarded as martyrs.
Interestingly, perhaps, according to Father Martinus Cawley (no relation to Father Jack Hackett), civic authorities during the mediaeval era regarded lepers as ‘legally dead’ giving them (the civic authorities that is) free reign to confiscate lepers’ goods.
However, we’re digressing.
Returning to St. Michael’s church, another early relic is the piscina, which sits on the right of the altar, (its something you put holy water into, I believe, and not the vicar’s personal loo as the name might suggest) along with the pedestal found on the east wall which, apparently, once contained an effigy of Saint Michael himself (neither of which we have a photograph of).
Even some of the stained glass windows have a long-standing legacy. The roundel in the Butler Chapel, for example, is Flemish and dates from the sixteenth century. We haven’t got a photograph of that either, apparently, but I have drawn it up.

Typical of the Wyre’s farming heritage this romantic scene depicts a couple shearing sheep. (It could have been worse.) Documents inform us that the window was originally one of a set of three…although what became of the other two we couldn’t say.
At the bottom of the picture is the word Junius (meaning June), the month when shearing generally took place. It’s accompanied by a crayfish, which probably represents the astrological sign of Cancer (June 21st to July 22nd).
Another fragment of old glass found in the Butler Chapel depicts a shield and dates from the fourteenth century.
This article’s going on a bit longer than I thought it would. Time for a seven-day break to gather our meagre wits before part two.