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  • 50 Finds from Staffordshire by Teresa Gilmore

    Thor's Cave, Manifold Valley, Staffordshire Moorlands. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Over 13,000 finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) as being found in Staffordshire and this book highlights fifty of those finds and their significance to the county. The majority are in private ownership, but some have been acquired by either the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery or Tamworth Castle. The finds I have selected are a personal choice, with them either having come in to me for recording or are of major significance to the county. More information can be found on each find by searching on the PAS database (www.finds.org.uk/database), using the database record number, often prefixed by WMID or another similar combination of letters. Treasure cases are referred to using both their PAS database record number and a reference number which takes the form of yearTnumber, e.g. 2016T1037.

    The chosen finds come from inside the modern county boundary, not the historic one, but include the unitary authority of Stoke-on-Trent.

    Each of the fifty finds should be considered to be ‘Treasure’, either by the legal definition of Treasure or because they were a ‘treasured’ possession.

    Treasure is legally defined as:

    * Any artefact older than 300 years old, with a precious metal content of greater than 10 per cent;

    * Two or more precious metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Ten or more base metal coins from the same find-spot;

    * Two or more items of prehistoric metalwork from the same find-spot, found after 2003;

    * An item found in association with an item of treasure, i.e. a pottery vessel that held a coin hoard;

    * Anything that could be classified under the original Treasure Trove legislation, i.e. less than 300 years old but hidden with intention to recover, with a significant precious metal content.

    To be recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, finds do not have to be classified as ‘Treasure’. Any archaeological find, over 300 years old, is worth a record.

    Letocetum, Wall near Lichfield. The bath house remains are in the foreground, and the mansio is in the background. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    These finds provide tantalising clues about the lives of everyday people in past societies. From cooking pots to brooches; from ear scoops to hair pins; from coins to weights; from axeheads to bridle bits; each one helps complete our archaeological jigsaw puzzle.

    All artefacts recorded have been found by metal detectorists, field walkers or members of the public. The PAS record includes an identification of the artefact and details of where it was found, with a minimum of a six-figure Ordnance Survey (OS) grid reference (100 metre square).

    Knowing where something has come from can change the understanding of an artefact.

    For instance, a Roman coin by itself can be just a stray loss, but being found alongside other coins and artefacts of similar dating might indicate a settlement.

    A selection of different finds types encountered, not to scale. (C. Birmingham Museums Trusst/Portable Antiquities Scheme, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Responsible detecting is promoted, so landowner permission must be sought prior to detecting. All land in England and Wales is owned by someone, whether it is private, Crown or public. Finds are then reported to a local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) for recording on the PAS database.

    We advise that metal detectorists adhere to a code of conduct, recognised by the National Council for Metal Detecting and the PAS. This recommends that permission is sought, the Countryside Code followed and that finds are shown to the landowner and reported to the PAS. The code can be found online at https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/ codeofpractice.

    Scotland is not covered by the PAS, due to different landownership laws. There, all archaeological finds found below ground are considered to be Treasure and must be declared. The Scottish version of the PAS is Treasure Trove Scotland, managed by Historic Scotland and based in Edinburgh at the National Museum.

    Generally most archaeological work undertaken in Staffordshire, and the rest of the country, is the result of development, e.g. a new housing estate or road-widening scheme. The National Planning Policy Framework, in particular Planning Policy Statement Five (PPS5) and its predecessor Planning Policy Guidance Sixteen (PPG16), states that prior to any development occurring, where appropriate, an archaeological investigation has to take place.

    This investigation can take many levels: from a desk-based assessment, which makes reference to previous recorded finds, known standing buildings and sites, to assess the potential for archaeological remains; to trial trenches dug through selected features, like Time Team; through to a full-scale excavation, where a large area is opened up, features sampled and dug.

    Tamworth Castle. (Author's collection, 50 Finds from Staffordshire, Amberley Publishing)

    PAS data contributes at the start, at the desk-based assessment level. Each find recorded by the PAS adds another dot to the map, sometimes supplying dating for crop mark or earthwork features in the area. The more dots there are, the more information we have for an area, so the full potential can be assessed and the right approach can be recommended to the client, such as excavation.

    A strength of the PAS is that, through recording these finds, it means that fields and upland areas not under threat of development can be surveyed. These areas would not get investigated by other means.

    When looking through the PAS database, there is a strong bias towards copper alloy and lead artefact types, as opposed to ferrous (iron), lithic (stone) and ceramic (pottery) materials. This is explained by a discrimination feature on most metal detectors, allowing them to tune out ferrous signals and concentrate on those from other metals, such as copper, lead and precious metals. Most ferrous finds tend to be modern. Lithic and ceramic materials are not picked up by the metal detector, but rely on visual scanning methods, such as field walking or good observation.

    Teresa Gilmore's new book 50 Finds from Staffordshire is available for purchase now.

  • The Mysteries of Stonehenge by Nikolai Tolstoy

    My lifelong enthusiasm for Celtic studies began about the age of twelve, when my inspiring preparatory school headmaster suggested I read Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’ novels.  I at once became engrossed in Scottish history and that of the Gaelic Highlands in particular. A prior love of the stirring tales of King Arthur combined with this enthusiasm to lead me into an abiding desire to establish the historical origins of the Arthurian legend.

    By fortunate chance my five exceedingly happy years of undergraduate studies took place at Trinity College Dublin. Although my course was in Modern History and Political Theory, I was able to study Middle Welsh and Old Irish under the guidance of the formidably bearded Professor David Greene. I enjoyed a close friendship with his convivial colleague James Carney, and was privileged to know many of the giants of Celtic studies in those distant days, including Rachel Bromwich, Kenneth Jackson, Myles Dillon, Kathleen Hughes, and Nora Chadwick.

    the-mysteries-of-stonehenge-1 Stonehenge (Courtesy Flickr Waaghals, The Mysteries of Stonehenge, Amberley Publishing)

    All my allowance that I could spare was devoted to building up a collection of books on the subject – a pursuit which became something of an obsession. Indeed, Susan Gregory, my unforgettable companion of those halcyon days, in conversation with my stepfather Patrick O’Brian once gently criticized the extent to which I dwelt upon ‘ye olde folks’! Meanwhile, browsing in the entrancingly cheap Dublin bookshops permitted me to amass the beginnings of a library of books on Celtic studies. Today the collection has increased to several thousand works, and it is with some gratification I note that my 45-page bibliography to The Mysteries of Stonehenge comprises in its entirety books and off prints on the shelves around me as I write.

    I must here confess with shame that my command of spoken Irish and Welsh remains rudimentary. Although my wife and I found our first home in the forested heart of Welsh-speaking Powys, I have since enjoyed little opportunity to use the spoken word. In any case, my desire to master those two ancient languages remained focused on the ability to study early medieval texts.

    Apart from the riches of Dublin bookshops, I obtained many rare treasures in London from Griff’s, the Welsh bookshop in Cecil Court, and became close friends with its owners, the Griffiths brothers.  One summer vacation while still at TCD, I devoted myself to studying Teach Yourself Welsh.  Proud of my fancied progress, at my next call at Griff’s I began the conversation in Welsh.  Ever polite, William Griffiths inclined his head on one side with an expression indicating increasing bafflement at every word I spoke. Eventually, he enquired diffidently: ‘Was that Russian you were speaking?’ Realizing that learning from phonetics was far from representing (at any rate in my case) the path to fluency, I abandoned any attempt to become a Welsh speaker.

    My early interest was confined to efforts – often sadly jejune, as my youthful publications attest – to recover ‘realities’ lying behind our sadly deficient sources for Dark-Age history. This interest continues, and I hope to publish before long investigative studies of the historical Arthur (assuming there was one – as I believe there was), and the originally distinct mystery of the Holy Grail.

    the-mysteries-of-stonehenge-3 'Merlin re-erects the Giant's Dance' (Courtesy British Library, Egerton MS 3028, The Mysteries of Stonehenge, Amberley Publishing)

    However, my focus shifted considerably when in 1967 I bought Anne Ross’s classic Pagan Celtic Britain. Among other revelations, it made me realize that much I had assumed to be historical (such as the birth-tale of Arthur at Tintagel) proved to be mythical – in the authentic sense of the word. From this period my researches expanded increasingly into other spheres of knowledge: above all, Indo-European studies, together with comparative religion, mythology, and cosmology. At an ancillary level, I pursued investigations into the ultimate origins of religious belief, whether in anthropological or philosophical terms.

    Shortly after I married my dear (and patient) wife Georgina in 1971, my researches became of a sudden directed into a very different course of study. The national controversy provoked by my Victims of Yalta culminated in my book The Minister and Massacres, which was subsequently suppressed at the instance of an apprehensive British Government. By curious chance this occurred exactly two centuries after the previous book to have been officially censored – which was no less than Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man!

    However, I had in the meantime completed a study of the Merlin legend. The Quest for Merlin was published in 1985, in which I argued for an historical Merlin, whose legendary career and prophetic powers strikingly resembled those of Siberian shamans. In fact, my fascination with the Celts had never abated, and eventually I became free to pursue broader researches culminating in publication of my current book The Mysteries of Stonehenge.

    Over years of research it increasingly dawned on me that detailed examination of the earliest surviving Welsh and Irish literatures might provide access to a vastly older prehistoric past extending to the Bronze and even Neolithic Ages. While archaeologists have established with increasing accuracy how and when colossal megalithic structures like Stonehenge were erected, their explanations why such laborious feats were undertaken of necessity derived largely from informed speculation. However, scholarly works such as the classic Celtic Heritage by the brothers Rees, and more recently Proinsias Mac Cana’s The Cult of the Sacred Centre and John Waddell’s Archaeology and Celtic Myth pointed the way towards a radically distinct approach.

    the-mysteries-of-stonehenge-4 Navel of Ireland at Uisneach (Courtesy Flickr Abi Skipp, The Mysteries of Stonehenge, Amberley Publishing)

    It is hard now to recall the evolution of my labours over the years, but two critical points glimpsed at a formative stage of my researches stand out. The first was the twelfth-century imaginative ‘historian’ Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful account of Merlin’s transporting the gigantic monoliths of Stonehenge from the hill of Killare in Ireland. Killare lies beside Uisneach in Meath, a site famed in Irish medieval literature as the umbilical sacred Centre of the island.  Clearly, Geoffrey’s tale reflects misunderstanding of an archaic tradition that Stonehenge represented the corresponding Centre (Navel) of Britain. The fact that a mere handful of monoliths were to be found at Uisneach could have confirmed a belief that the originals had been removed to Uisneach’s ideological counterpart at Stonehenge.

    the-mysteries-of-stonehenge-2 Possible routes for transportation of the Stonehenge bluestones (Mike Parker Pearson, Stonehenge (Simon & Schuster) Courtesy Pearon, Stonehenge p. 279, The Mysteries of Stonehenge, Amberley Publishing)

    Again, archaeologists have established that the smaller (though still massive) ‘bluestones’ of Stonehenge were originally transported to the spot by a miracle of prehistoric engineering from Preseli Mountain in remote Pembrokeshire (Dyfed). Clearly, there must have been something exceptionally holy about their original site, but what that was could only be subject for conjecture. That is, until the significance of an episode in the early eleventh-century Welsh tale of ‘Pwyll, prince of Dyfed’ struck me.

    The story tells how the nobles of Dyfed, becoming alarmed at the failure of Pwyll’s queen Rhiannon to produce an heir to the kingdom, repaired to Preseli Mountain to seek a solution. Following the assembly, Rhiannon duly gave birth to a princely son. The gathering implicitly took place on a significant date in the pre-Christian British calendar. In early times the person of the king embodied his realm, so that extinction of a royal dynasty brought about sterility of the kingdom as a whole – the Wasteland of the Grail romances. All this suggests the motive for the transfer of the bluestones, which were believed to be imbued with magical power (mana) ensuring the perpetuation of the Monarchy of Britain, which in turn was focused on the mighty national Centre at Stonehenge.

    These factors led in turn to a succession of comparable discoveries, which after long years were finally published in my detailed study The Mysteries of Stonehenge. Together, they reveal much of pre-Christian myth and ritual, prominent among which were the Celtic doctrines of the soul and divine kingship, and explain how much of this cosmology came to be deliberately absorbed into Celtic Christianity.

    9781445659534

    Nikolai Tolstoy's new book The Mysteries of Stonehenge is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Finds from Essex by Ben Paites

    The Portable Antiquities Scheme began in 1997 and operates across England and Wales, promoting the recording of archaeological material found by members of the public onto their free online database (https://finds.org.uk/database). Over 30 Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) operate across the country, ensuring each county is covered. The FLOs visit metal-detecting clubs and host events at museums and other institutions, to allow members of the public to get their finds identified and recorded. Recording them ensures that as many people as possible get the opportunity to see some of the wonderful objects that are uncovered every day.

    One other role the FLOs have is to administer the Treasure Act 1996, by identifying any objects that might be Treasure (https://finds.org.uk/treasure). As a result, the work of the PAS has facilitated the acquisitions of some incredible objects by museums across the country.

    As of October 2016, over 1,200,000 individual objects have been recorded onto the database. This has allowed a great deal of research into the history of England and Wales. From Stone Age tools to Elizabethan jewellery, there have been some incredible discoveries in the past 20 years and not all of them have been treasure. Essex alone has recorded over 20,000 and has one of the highest numbers of Treasure cases per year in the country. 50 Finds from Essex brings together just some of those objects and attempts to unravel the stories they tell, within the historical context in which they were made and used.

    50-finds-from-essex-1 Figure 1: Gold ring found in Uttlesford, possibly showing Odin with a cross (ESS-E396B1). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    The book itself looks at each region within the county, highlighting some of the objects from a wide range of periods. In Uttlesford, there is a wealth of Anglo-Saxon material that is not present in the rest of the county. Objects such as no. 4 (fig. 1), highlight the wealth of some people living in Early Medieval Essex.

    50-finds-from-essex-2 Figure 2: Pilgrim badge of St Hubert (ESS-940232). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

     

    The next chapter examines finds from the Braintree area, including objects almost 10,000 years old. For a region with sites such as Heddingham Castle, there is no surprise that the Medieval finds from the region are also significant. Object no. 12 (fig. 2), shows that pilgrim badges, more commonly made of lead, could also come in highly decorative forms. The possible connection with this particular badge and Anne of Cleves is particularly tantalising.

    50-finds-from-essex-3 Figure 3: Viking sword found in the river Colne (ESS-D45534). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Next stop on the journey around Essex is Colchester and Tendring, a region with rich coastal archaeology and some of the most significant Roman sites in the country. From a Roman brooch produced in Gaul to Medieval figurines with links to a Colchester abbey, the finds from North East Essex reflects Britain’s tumultuous history at a local level. Object no. 20 (fig. 3), a Viking sword found in the river Colne, highlights this more than any other.

    50-finds-from-essex-4 Figure 4: An Iron Age object of uncertain purpose, from Epping Forest District (ESS-472ABA). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Finds from Epping Forest and Harlow have provided a wealth of information about Essex’s most ancient woodland. With some significant Iron Age defensive structures in the area, there is no surprise that several significant objects from that period have been found. This includes some of the earliest currency used in Britain, brought over from continental Europe, as well as enigmatic object no. 23 (fig. 4) that proves to be a mystery to experts across the world.

     

    x-default Figure 5: Elizabethan gold, ruby and diamond pedant, only display in Colchester Castle (ESS-0144A4). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    Brentwood, Basildon and Thurrock are individually rather small districts, but have produced a great deal of finds with several metal detecting clubs in the area. Being so close to the River Thames, the ancient highway into London, the diverse history of the region is reflected in the finds. This region has provided some insight into how coins can be more than just currency, such as a Byzantine coin turned into a pendant. Alongside this are objects that reflect wealth beyond currency, brought through this region for centuries. Object no. 35 (fig. 5) is a gold, ruby and diamond pendant similar to one worn by Elizabeth I, now on display in Colchester Castle.

    50-finds-from-essex-6 Figure 6: Roman metalworker's test piece (ESS-E5CE07). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Central Essex and the area around Chelmsford, the county capital, showcases the great industry that Essex has seen throughout its history. Not only in the form of incredible skilfully produced objects, but also objects that highlight the process of production. Object no. 39 (fig. 6.), though not particularly impressive to look at, shows how Roman craftspeople would practice their designs before producing the mould to cast an object.

     

    50-finds-from-essex-7 Figure 7: A seal matrix depicting a ship (ESS-ED25B6). (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

    The final region that is examined is Southend, Maldon, Rochford and Castle Point, an area of coastal and estuarine environments, with limited opportunities for detecting due to a large portion being owned by the Ministry of Defence. However, the maritime nature of this region is clearly reflected in the finds from further inland. Objects came to Britain from far and wide during the Bronze Age, as seen in the Burnham on Crouch hoard. As ships allowed for faster travel they became a significant part of the lives of people living in Southern Essex. Object no. 49 (fig. 7.) shows this, as a ship was chosen to be used on a seal matrix.

    50-finds-from-essex-8 Figure 8: Hindu vessels found in the River Colne. (50 Finds from Essex, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

     

    Finally, Object no. 50 (fig. 8) was chosen to highlight the fact that people today continue to leave things that can be discovered in the future. These vessels were rescued from the river Colne in the summer of 2015. Although produced in recent times, they highlight the diversification of Colchester in the modern day. Prior to this, there had been no recorded instance of a Hindu offering in the river. If a member of the public had not spotted them and notified their local FLO, those objects may have been sitting in the river for centuries to come.

    9781445658353

    Ben Paites new book 50 Finds from Essex is available for purchase now.

  • Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds by Sean Campbell

    Hill-Forts are defensive structures, many of which are built on advantageous higher ground giving a strong position to defend from. During c.700-100BC hill-forts were built in different parts of Britain. The Cotswolds which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was one of them, many of these monuments were constructed here.

    hill-forts-1 Kimsbury Castle: great views from the top of the inner rampart. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    I have had an interest in hill-forts since studying Field Archaeology, as trying to spot Ancient earthworks at these sites is something I really enjoy doing. I began exploring these forts within the Cotswolds in 2009 and since then have been able to see that many of these sites have been looked after for us to enjoy today. At Leckhampton Hill (Leckhampton) for example the defensive remains can be seen on approach to the site and is built upon an area which has great views over distance areas. Other fort sites have been built near to in recent times, such as Windrush Camp (Windrush) which has farmland buildings built around it, its standing earthworks can be seen amongst them.

    hill-forts-2 Leckhampton Hill: the defences, seen from the entrance. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    I enjoy visiting these sites because being over 2000 years old, a lot of historic events would have taken place at these sites, which I find fascinating. Many sites have no clear labelling or signs, but when reached via a map or with directions, you can enjoy the challenge of finding the fort remains and get a perspective of what it would have been like for those inhabiting these sites. Sometimes the challenge of finding forts earthworks can be a challenge, as I found out when I initially went to visit Brackenbury Ditches (North Nibley). The first area I visited I mistook for the fort itself, but it was actually a nearby area that had some rampart looking earthworks. When I checked my routes on the map at a later date I realised that the site was actually further along the hill plateau. From this I learnt the key importance of checking positioning, as well as assessing the authenticity of archaeological remains while on search for a hill-fort.

    hill-forts-3 Sodbury Camp: in between the defences, next to the inner ditch. (Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds, Amberley Publishing)

    It is not just the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age that some of these sites were inhabited. For example there are some sites that were inhabited before they were forts, for example Crickley Hill (Coberley) was a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Birdlip Camp (Peak Camp) (Cowley) nearby, has also been interpreted to have been a Neolithic Causewayed enclosure. Other sites were also inhabited after the Iron Age, at Sodbury Camp (Little Sodbury) for example, it is known that it was used as a Camp by the Romans.

    So why not go out and visit one of these standing monuments for yourself? Visible remains of forts defences are a sight to see, the combination of a bank and ditch defence may sound simple, but its design is effective and would have taken a lot of time, resources and effort to achieve. However not every hill-fort will have visible remains today, as a result of the ground being disturbed, ploughing being an example of something that can damage archaeological sites. Each fort whether it is built upon a high dominate ground or a low-lying position has its own individuality and reasons for being built there. Exploring accessible areas’ for yourself will give you an opportunity to make your own interpretation on a site.

    9781445660028

    Sean Campbell's new book Hill-Forts of the Cotswolds is available for purchase now.

  • Derby in 50 Buildings by Gerry Van Tonder

    In the Christian calendar between 100 and 200 AD, the occupation forces of Roman Britain established a military revictualling military and trading station, Derventio, at a ford across the Derwent.

    Two centuries after the demise of Rome’s hold over the Britons, Saxon invaders levelled Derventio, forcefully asserting their authority over the settlement’s erstwhile owners. The defensive site, named Northworthige by the Saxons and bounded by the Derwent and several streams, witnessed the growth of primitive industries.

    In 597, the monk Augustine arrived in England, sent by the Papacy on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. As pagan worship yielded to the new religion, church buildings started to appear throughout England, typically basic structures made of wood. In the centre of Northworthige, St Werburgh’s was constructed, providing a focal market point for traders and farmers to conduct their business.

    In the ninth century, the much-feared Viking coastal raiders moved inland, and in 874, this warring wave of plunder and pillage overwhelmed Northworthige. Forty years later, the female warrior, Ethelfleda, gathered a strong enough Saxon army to drive the Danes from the village. Less than three decades thereafter, however, the Danes re-claimed their ownership, but this time compromise was the order of the day as Dane and Saxon elected to live together under one common law. Exercising their political majority, the Danes renamed the village Derby: the ‘town on the water’.

    The Norman invasion of 1066 and the death in battle of the Saxon King Harold, brought Saxon rule to an abrupt end. The agricultural town of Derby started weaving its own cloth and grinding its own corn in small mills. A corn market was established close to the St James’s monastery conglomeration of church and agricultural buildings.

    derby-in-50-buildings-1 The old and the new - 5 metres and hundreds of years of history separate St Werburgh's from her modern red-brick neighbour. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    As disputes grew over taxes and agricultural excise duties, central control manifested itself in the courts of assizes, responsible for civil and criminal jurisdiction. The assizes were held initially in the County Hall at St Mary’s Gate. By the middle of the fifteenth century, merchants and traders established their guild in the Town Hall, transforming its function towards that of a borough corporation.

    Agriculture and allied markets continued to fuel Derby’s expansion, and by the 1700s, the town boasted large residences in Full Street, the Corn Market and the Morledge. A post office and banks serviced the economy, while shopkeepers catered for the new wealth. The growth demanded significant improvements in the transport infrastructure. Turnpike roads were constructed and tollhouses sprang up to collect revenue from the road users. Coach inns proliferated, and bull-baiting, wild beast shows, theatres and fairs were held, as the town’s 1750 population of 7,000 centred their lives on the Market Place.

    The late 1830s would have a major and lasting impact on Derby: the railway had arrived.

    Iron and engineering works sprang up to cope with the demands of this revolutionary and efficient method of transport. New mills were built and the manufacture of Derby Crown china revived. New streets were laid and existing ones widened. The Market Place expanded, and gradually, Derby started losing much of its historic appearance.

    Typically, however, the increase in wealth had an undesired by product: the poor; members of the Derby community who gained no benefit from industrial prosperity. Legislation was promulgated to address the issue, but a major provision to qualify for aid, was for the poverty-stricken to move into the new Workhouse on Osmaston Road.

    The most profound event in the future economic strength of Derby, occurred in 1906 when Rolls Royce commenced the manufacture of that icon of luxury motoring: the Rolls Royce. The company’s factories and offices spread from Osmaston Road to other parts of the city, an expansion accelerated by their highly successful venture into aero-engines. The company would evolve into becoming the single largest contributor to the town’s future wealth and economic security, something that is reflected in many of Derby’s buildings.

    Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of the project was that of discovery. After having lived in Derby for more than sixteen years, I quickly found that I knew very little about the city that I now called home. I believe we are all guilty – to a lesser or greater extent – of going about our business without taking in our surrounds.

    derby-in-50-buildings-2 The 1601 St Werburgh's clock tower abuts the newer church. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Arguably, the greatest and most exciting revelation was the interior of the ancient St Werburgh’s Church on Cheapside. Surprisingly, I was given a key at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery (an enormous key at that) and told to go across the road and help myself – the church is generally not open to the public. After a struggle with the idiosyncrasies of a very large, very old door, I stumbled into darkness, my senses assailed by the smell of antiquity. I eventually found a few lights, which helped little, a gazed in awe at my surrounds.

    Founded in the seventh century, St Werburgh’s was the first Christian church in Derby, less than 100 years after the first Christian missionary, Augustine, had arrived in England. The building would have been a crude, thatched wicker and daub structure.

    Saint Werburgh, who died in AD700 was, at the end of her life, senior abbess of the kingdom of Mercia. The daughter of King Wulfhere and Queen Ermenhilda of Mercia, she took the unconventional step to become a nun, and although her father wished her to marry, he eventually relented and gave his permission for her to enter Ely Abbey. The Church Calendar now celebrates Feast Day annually on 7 February, to commemorate the day of her death.

    The church was rebuilt towards the close of the seventeenth century, with the 1601 tower being retained. Staffordshire-born lexicographer, poet and biographer, Dr Samuel Johnson married Elizabeth Porter (nee Jervis) in the church in 1735.

    derby-in-50-buildings-3 Highly ornate reredos and stained-glass window in the east side of the chanel. (c. Derby in 50 Buildings, Amberley Publishing)

    Rebuilding work on the rest of the church commenced in 1893. Designed by Sir Arthur Blomfield in the Gothic Revival style, ‘Rough Rock’ sandstone for the construction came from the nearby Coxbench quarry.

    In 1990, the building was declared redundant and the inside of the building converted to commercial use. For a brief period, the church was used as a shopping mall, comprising small stalls. The venture never really took off, and access to the building is now restricted. With the church and its cemetery no longer in use, the headstones have been propped up against the outside walls of the building.

    Today St Werburgh’s, its tower refurbished in 2004, owes the fact that it is still standing to its Grade II-listed status. Volunteers from the Churches Conservation Trust look after the tower and original chancel, keeping in a good state of repair the 1708 reredos with its ornate panels and Queen Anne’s Coat of Arms overhead, as well as the stained-glass window and a monument to Sarah Elizabeth Winyates who died in 1828. This 1832 neo-classical figure of a woman in mourning is by prolific English sculptor, Sir Francis Chantrey, commissioned at a cost of £600.

    9781445658155

    Gerry Van Tonder's book Derby in 50 Buildings is available for purchase now.

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