More cross slabs

Another epic day at Grosmont with Rosamund Rocyn Jones and Martin Jackson, the church historian who spotted that enigmatic 17th century cross slab and sent me off on a long trail into post-medieval tomb carving. Main aim of the exercise was to look at the other face of the cross slab (the only face now visible, as it has been fixed to the wall). The carving of the cross looks unfinished (this is Martin’s photo)

grosmontihscompressed

– the scrolled base is only scratched in. This led me to speculate rather wildly that it could have been abandoned in the aftermath of the Popish Plot, when there was possibly some unease about using something that could have been interpreted as a Jesuit symbol. The final date on the reverse (the side now visible, but totally unphotographable) is 1726 and that would really be too long for a perfectly good piece of stone to lie around the stonemason’s yard. However, the two inscriptions on the reused side are clearly of different dates and the earlier one commemorates a Thomas Springet who was buried in 1689 so that makes reuse more of a possibility.

While we were there we had another look round the church. The Williams/Baker-Gabb memorial in the south transept is a gorgeous piece of seventeenth-century vernacular carving. It was clearly produced by one of the stonemasons responsible for carving cross slabs in north Gwent – the vernacular figures are very characteristic – but this one doesn’t have a cross.

Clearly there were pattern books with a range of designs (very much like choosing a modern tombstone, if you think about it) and you could say ‘Yes, I like those little figures, can I have that style of cross head, ooh, yes, the IHS trigram would be cool’ – or ‘Can you do the figures a bit bigger, and I think I’d rather not go for the cross style, how about some of those angels instead’.

We also looked at the later ledgerstones in the nave. Grosmont is a huge church for what is now a village but was until the 19th century a fully-fledged borough with mayor and market hall. The modern congregation uses the chancel for worship and the nave is a huge Romanesque empty space. Until the 19th century the church was heavily used for burials – so much so that the floor was literally oozing, the stench was unbearable and eventually the whole lot was excavated and reburied. But according to Martin the stones laid in the nave all came from the churchyard and were on chest tombs.

I explained that anything after 1660 is really way past my bedtime and Martin offered to take me up the tower. Narrow, steep steps, start of claustrophobia … then over the door to the ringing chamber this

grosmont8

clearly a medieval cross head, possibly an expanded-arm cross like one of the ones on the window sill below

Meanwhile Steve was rootling around in a heap of stones stacked at the west end of the nave. One was a heavy coffin-shaped slab – was it medieval – absolutely no way of moving it or looking underneath but this very vague photo does show some evidence of carving.

We now hope to get back there when there are some strong lads in attendance plus lifting gear and rollers. All such fun.

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