Herefordshire – everything but the cross slab!

I am still being distracted by these post-medieval cross slabs. There are wonderful examples right up to the Welsh border – at Skenfrith (http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/cross-slabs-closet-catholics-and-local-history-lectures/) the church is within sight of the river and England – but apparently they are pretty much unheard-of elsewhere. The border between Monmouthshire and Herefordshire is a sixteenth-century construct, the result of some very political negotiation over lordship and county boundaries after the first ‘Act of Union’ in 1536. You wouldn’t expect it to be a cultural boundary: and indeed, Welsh was spoken in western Herefordshire well into the seventeenth century. You really would have thought that the artistic tradition would have crossed over as well.

So it was with great delight that I heard from Doug Knight (the one who spotted the cross slabs at Skenfrith) that he had found another at Kilpeck. Kilpeck is a wonderful church, famous for its Romanesque carvings and sheela-na-gig. I’ve been there several times but never paid attention to the tomb carvings. I think this is the one Doug saw and it’s medieval

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but there were two post-medieval ones, one with a neat little cross pattee

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commemorating Bridgit Gomond (d.1685) and her husband Edmund (d. 1713). Here’s the detail of the cross pattee:

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From the two different styles of writing, it looks as though the slab was cut for Bridget and Edmund was added later: so there are seventeenth-century cross slabs over the border. (Cross slabs became more common in the early 18th century: some of the political charge of Catholicism was removed by the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and ironically once the throne was barred to Catholics, life for Catholics became easier.)

This memorial to the Sisyl family of Withington looks as though it has a cross

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or is it just panelling inserted to distinguish the numerous names?

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We moved on to Abbey Dore. This is an archetypal Laudian beauty-of-holiness church. John, Lord Scudamore was a close friend of Laud’s and shared many of his ideas. He was acutely aware that most of his family’s money came from land they had bought at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There was increasing unease about this in the seventeenth century. Spelman had just published his History and Fate of Sacrilege, detailing the awful things which had happened to families whose ancestors had dabbled in church property. Scudamore tried to make recompense for this by rebuilding the monastic church at Abbey Dore for parochial use and endowing it with some of his monastic property. Here if anywhere we might expect to find something as traditional as a seventeenth-century cross slab.

And we did – but like the one at Kilpeck it’s rather unusual.

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It commemorates two members of the Williams family who died in 1696 and 1729. As with the Gomond memorial in Kilpeck, the key thing is whether the cross was part of the original design or added later.

The cross head does look to be of the same style as the border

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and the epigraphy of the two inscriptions is different – so this looks like one more post-medieval cross slab from Herefordshire. But like the Kilpeck one it’s idiosyncratic – this time the cross is at the base of the slab, and it is a very unusual design, with four different styles of branches between the arms of the cross.

We also spotted this one at Dore

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but the inscribed date must be an addition to a medieval coffin slab with a neat cross patte head

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On to Clodock, one of the churches the Victorians forgot: it still has its box pews and a splendid triple-decker pulpit. And partly concealed by the decking under the organ, this –

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which has everything but the cross slab. At the head, the IHS trigram, a heart, a fleur-de-lis and a Latin inscription

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‘Beati ab hoc tempore mortui ii, qui Domini causa moriuntur’ (Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord – all good Prayer Book stuff, but in Latin? …)

and at the base this very odd little figure

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The slab commemorates a Lewis Philip who died in 1676, though the date seems to have been recut. All very puzzling.

Clodock has some more slabs which are all-but-cross-slabs

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and more of the elaborately panelled ones – there seems to be a local style here

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We also visited St Devereux, where we saw these two splendid memorials to children of the Goode family

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but no cross slabs; Ewyas Harold, Craswall and Michaelchurch Escley (no cross slabs but this wonderful Sunday Christ

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and a strange little carving on the windowsill)

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Oh, and all eight churches were open. Well done, Hereford diocese and two massive parochial groups where they still manage to maintain a strong community presence.

What will Doug Knight find for us next? Watch this space …

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2 thoughts on “Herefordshire – everything but the cross slab!

  1. Are they post medieval, or are they medieval cross slabs reused?. With Lewis Phillip, the 7 looks odd, it stands on a square surround that looks to be proud of the main body of the slab, as my wood work teacher said, in Grammar school I`ve lots of tools here to take wood off, but none to put it on.The same would apply to a mason and his tools.Perhaps the original number was wrong and they cut it out, and replaced it with the 7 on an insert. My main interest is through two branches of my humble family, who were stonemasons in Pembrokeshire, and Gloucestershire. Oddly both sides were into church archticecture, the Owens in St Davids, Tenby and Haverfordwest,in Gloucestershire the Bryans were active in the 18th century, the Bennetts in the 19th, mainly in the eccleciastical field, the Bryans even built a church tower.

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    • Some are medieval and reused (eg the coffin slab at Dore) but some (to judge by the style) aren’t. Looking at all the photos of the Philip one, the square is actually recessed into the slab – so I think you are right, they changed the number.
      But why?

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