Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 10: Leamington Spa

This is the tenth and final post in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

A historical panorama of Leamington Spa and surrounding countryside, on display in the Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum, Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa.

The town of Royal Leamington Spa underwent a dramatic transformation beginning from the early 1700s when the 4th Earl of Aylesford discovered a mineral spring on his land. Subsequently, a few further twists and turns of the story raised the fortunes of this sleepy little village called Leamington Priors, until it had attained the highest reputation with The Beau Monde, and re-invented itself as a desirable Regency health resort. Aristocrats and the wealthiest members of society would flock here, to take the waters. The town met with the approval of Queen Victoria, which is why she’s celebrated with a statue in front of the Town Hall.

Victoria House, Willes Road, Leamington Spa (photo credit Sheila Robinson)

I found several curious anecdotes and strange tales in Leamington Spa; these surround the railway station, which plays a significant role in Leamington Spa’s history from the 19th century on; the elegant building, formerly known as the Masonic Halls, now known as Victoria House; and a certain residential property in Leam Terrace which was proving difficult to sell.

Blue Plaque on the wall at Leamington Spa Railway Station

Here’s an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire:

Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, you could only reach Leamington Spa by Crown Prince stagecoach, and the journey from London took nine hours. But in 1844 everything changed with the formal opening of the Warwick and Leamington Branch Railway, and the first railway station in the town. This brought Leamington Spa within four hours journey of London.  That station building was replaced in 1852.  Posters advertised the town as a “Modern Holiday and Cure” resort. In 1939, despite initial negative reaction stirred up by the local press, the Great Western Railway opened an Art Deco station to replace the original building of 1852. The building is listed Grade II.

    Both passengers and station staff report paranormal occurrences. Stephen worked there from 2012 to 2016.

       “My job was night-time security officer,” he says……

  Stephen has several stories to tell of strange events in the station at night, when the station is closed to passengers, and no trains run.

   “Once, at about three or four in the morning, across the tracks I saw a lady on Platform 2.  I challenged her. ‘Excuse me, what are you doing in the station? How did you get in here?’ She looked at me as if she’d heard me, turned away and carried on walking. I ran down underneath and up the stairs to find her, and she had gone. So I got onto the CCTV and there was nothing there. But I had seen her clearly.  I had to make a phone call to report her so as to make sure there was no danger of someone being on the track. We have to cover ourselves.

   “Another time, I was walking around when I saw that a door I had previously locked was standing open. So I went to check the door. It was on Platform 1.  The door slammed on me as I went to it. I thought it must have been the wind, and locked it.

   “A lot of paranormal activity takes place in the offices upstairs. I went upstairs to check the place out and the door was open. I went back, and the door was closed.”

 This is corroborated by other members of staff  who regularly see and hear things including doors slamming and electrical equipment turning on and off.

   One staff member said, “When we first moved into the top floor offices the people who had been there previously had obviously left in a hurry. I regularly have paperwork thrown about. Doors are left open and I hear footsteps. I find it is often a quick way to end a meeting having a door slam for no logical reason. I’ve now learned to live in harmony with the ghosts.”

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 8: Rugby

This is the eighth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Rugby Theatre (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Rugby has a picturesque town centre rich with history, as I found when I joined an entertaining historical and paranormal tour there. Not only did we learn a lot about Rugby, and about English history, but we also heard several colourful tales recounted by a highly skilled raconteur.

The Black Swan, Rugby, and 14th century house next door, formerly the location of Tew’s the Butchers, mentioned in the classic novel ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ – photo credit Jamie Robinson

Here’s an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire:

   On Henry Street you will find Rugby Theatre, with which several paranormal tales are associated. In 1946 the Rugby Amateur Theatre Society was formed with the intention of founding a permanent theatre in the town. In 1949 the Society obtained a former cinema on the current site, and set about converting it into a theatre.

   One of the stories told by the theatre fraternity here is that of the ghostly figure of a woman who is seen floating down the stairs. It is thought she was an usherette in former times, who is still taking tickets and escorting people to their seats once they have come past the box office.

   Another story concerns the Circle. This is believed to be haunted by the apparition of a man who fell over the balcony and died. He loved the theatre so much he is often seen in his former place and people have actually got out of his way when he went to the seats.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more curious tales about this theatre, and several other locations in Rugby, why not preorder Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

  

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 7: Warwick Castle

This is the seventh in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Warwick Castle viewed from the town bridge. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

Warwick Castle, currently owned and looked after by Merlin Entertainments, is not only a spectacular sight for all who enter Warwick from the south, but it is also a treasure-house of stories: both historical, and some perhaps owing their provenance more to the imagination.

Warwick Castle: Caesar’s Tower. Photo credit Jamie Robinson

I attended a fascinating evening there several months ago when we discovered how the castle historians find out the truth of the numerous intriguing objects within the castle walls. We learned that a few of those objects owed their story more to the imagination of the Greville Earls of Warwick, than to any historical evidence (Guy of Warwick’s punch bowl being one of those artefacts).

The medieval bridge into Warwick, now a picturesque ruin close to the Castle Mill and Engine House. Photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Here is an extract from Paranormal Warwickshire.

    In 914, Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, built the first fortification on the land where Warwick Castle now stands, to keep out the Danes. After 1066 William the Conquerer took it over as a site for one of the many motte and bailey forts he established throughout England.

   The mound on which these fortifications stood remains today as a prized element of the estate; and indeed when Francis Greville, Earl of Warwick from 1759 to 1773, commissioned Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the grounds, he suggested making the mound an important aesthetic feature, ordering ornamental trees to be planted down its slopes surrounding the spiral path.

   Today, many stories are told of paranormal experiences around the Castle. One of the most well-known tales describes the apparition of Sir Fulke Greville in Watergate Tower. However, the story is no more than one hundred years old, and is not mentioned at all in the writings of Daisy, Countess of Warwick in the 1890s and early 1900s. Being a keen spiritualist, Daisy would have been well-motivated to repeat a spooky tale if it came to her ears. Strong circumstantial evidence suggests it may have been invented to increase tourism to the Castle. A documentary report published in 1996 concluded: “Little trace of Fulke Greville’s alterations survive in the tower…. It is unlikely that he ever lived in it.”

   Sir Fulke held the Castle between 1604 and 1628 and made many alterations to improve and beautify the castle and gardens. His death was a sad one: stabbed at his house in London by a resentful manservant, he lingered on for the next four weeks, suffering at the hands of inept doctors, before he died in agony. His body was brought back to Warwick and he was buried in the Chapter House of St Mary’s Church Warwick, where you may see his tomb.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

To find out more, and read some of the many curious anecdotes about Warwick Castle which are not so easily dismissed, do order your copy of Paranormal Warwickshire, out on 15th November 2020.

Paranormal Warwickshire Extracts Part 6: Kenilworth Castle

This is the sixth in a series of ten posts which will take us up to the date of publication of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire, out from Amberley Publishing on 15th November. This richly illustrated compilation of strange tales from Shakespeare’s county can be pre-ordered now from all online bookstores, and from Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books.

Kenilworth Castle (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today I share an extract from my chapter on Kenilworth Castle, a historical site of great spiritual resonance, looked after by English Heritage, and a place I love and have visited many times.

Kenilworth Castle, Leicester’s Gatehouse. Photo credit Sheila Robinson

   John of Gaunt’s great hall saw many feasts, the walls covered with vibrant tapestries, blazing logs spitting and crackling in the great fireplace and the table laden with banquets. We can imagine the heat that billows through the kitchen, and see the toiling cooks and servants amid the steam, and smell the sweet and savoury fragrance of the dishes that are being prepared and cooked.

   The Castle passed into John of Gaunt’s hands in 1361. John was created Duke of Lancaster and fought long campaigns in France and Spain. But in 1391 he set about converting the castle into a palace, and during the following eight years he held his great banquets.

    Two centuries later, Sir Robert Dudley’s guests arrived at Leicester’s Building, the special accommodation he built to house Elizabeth I and her entourage during their famous nineteen-day visit between 9 and 27 July 1575.

   Sir Robert’s father John, Duke of Northumberland, built the castle stables in 1553. Today the stables contain the castle tea rooms and restaurant, and an exhibition of the castle’s history. The stables have the reputation of being haunted. Visitors have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a young stable boy. He is dressed in ragged clothes, is thought to be around fourteen years old and of the period not long after the stables were built.  He has been seen in three places: the stables, around Leicester’s Gatehouse, and wandering among the ruins.

    Other strange experiences in the stables are reported by English Heritage staff, who claim to have heard voices from behind locked doors, and felt presences in the kitchen.

   In 1575 Sir Robert spent a considerable amount of time and money preparing for Elizabeth’s visit and his last attempt to persuade her to marry him. As part of his preparations, not only did he build the impressive accommodation block, but also he added Leicester’s Gatehouse. The gatehouse is set up to look as it would have done in the 1930s, when it was used as a private residence. On the top floor is an exhibition to explore the royal love story between Elizabeth and Dudley.

   Several paranormal tales emerge from Leicester’s Gatehouse. Some visitors describe the apparition of a little girl who asks for her daddy. Others have witnessed a spectral man dressed in black who was killed in a swordfight. Other reported appearances include an old lady who breaks the same candle time after time.

from Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman
Kenilworth Castle: view of the Keep from the new staircase inside Leicester’s Building. Photo credit Sheila Robinson

To find out more, why not preorder Paranormal Warwickshire, published on 15th November 2020, widely available online and through all good bookshops.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 14: Ettington Park

This is the fourteenth in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Ettington Park, Warwickshire
Ettington Park Warwickshire, which staands in extensive grounds beside the river Stour.

Ettington Park is a gothic mansion outside Stratford-upon-Avon, now a luxury hotel. It stands in extensive grounds beside the River Stour. The estate has a long and fascinating history from the time of the Domesday Book, and for many centuries it was in the hands of the Shirley family. In the grounds you may also find the poignant ruins of a medieval church.

Remains of medieval church in the grounds of Ettington Park Warwickshire

Many strange tales are told of Ettington Park, both in the house and grounds. Numerous reports have been forthcoming, from guests and staff alike, of apparitions, dramatic drops in temperature, and other phenomena. Unsurprisingly the property also often receives the attention of paranormal investigators.

A view of the gothic mansion at Ettington Park (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

To all new visitors the house itself makes a powerful impact; certainly I found it to have a commanding presence, and not only is it a magnificent example of romantic architecture, but it bears that out fully with its strong atmosphere. This again is a property I greatly enjoyed researching, not least because of the highly-recommended afternoon tea to be taken here! (but sadly no paranormal events were experienced over the cakes and scones).

a view of the medieval church ruins at Ettington Park (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Nevertheless many have given accounts of eerie events here.

Discover more about the strange events at Ettington Park in my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House and Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 7: Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

This is the seventh in a series of glimpses into my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Former cloisters Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Looking over the remains of the former cloisters at Abbey Fields, towards the churchyard of St Nicholas Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Abbey Fields in Kenilworth are a well-loved open space with a lake, adjacent to the thirteenth century parish church of St Nicholas. For centuries this land belonged to St Mary’s Abbey, before it was dissolved in 1538. This abbey gained its status in 1447 having previously been a priory for Augustinian canons.

remains former chapter house Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of former chapter house of St Mary’s Abbey, at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Today parts of the cloisters remain, as do stones from the former chapter house, and also parts of the gatehouse and arch leading from Abbey Fields into the churchyard.

Remains of arch Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Remains of arch at Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

The lake here would have formerly been one of the stew ponds where the monks bred fish for their tables.

lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The lake in Abbey Fields Kenilworth (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

When I walk through Abbey Fields, past the cloisters, along beside the Finham Brook, or through the archway into the shady and atmospheric churchyard, I cannot help but think of those former inhabitants, the monks and the abbot, and of their daily ordered existence for so many centuries on this land where I walk.

Poignant feelings arise: an awareness, perhaps, of those who have occupied this same space before us, and who have imprinted upon it their hopes and dreams, their faith and doubt, their joys and sorrows.

Curious incidents have been reported here; both eerie sensations, and sighting of apparitions. You can find out more about these in my book Paranormal Warwickshire, which is coming out in November.

Do check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Warwick Castle

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston’s Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 5: St Mary’s Church Warwick

This is the fifth in my series of glimpses into the pages of my new book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Marys Church Warwick at night – photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

St Mary’s Church Warwick stands close to Warwick Castle, at the heart of England’s history. The church foundations date back 900 years, and it is believed a Saxon church stood here before the Norman conquest. The first Norman earl of Warwick began a collegiate foundation here modelled on the cathedrals of St Paul’s, Lincoln, York and Salisbury; and his son completed it in in 1123.

Beauchamp Chapel St Marys Church Warwick - photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
The Beauchamp Chapel, St Mary’s Church Warwick – photo credit Jamie Robinson

The church therefore has been a centre of faith for many centuries, and the rich atmosphere within this magnificent building bears testimony to that. St Mary’s holds many treasures, the greatest of which is the elaborate Beauchamp Chapel, commissioned by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick from 1401 to 1439. The chapel today offers us a rare glimpse of medieval splendour, much of which was destroyed in English churches after the Reformation.

Gothic tower St Marys Church Warwick sited over the street photo credit Sheila Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Gothic tower of St Mary’s Church Warwick. The earlier tower was destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1693. Sir Christopher Wren advised on the best location for the new tower and recommended that it be sited over the street (photo credit Sheila Robinson) Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

Around and behind the church building we are drawn into a different world: in the graveyard, many curious tales are told by those who walk among the tombstones.

Gravestone of eight month old Mary Ann in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church Warwick. Curious anecdotes surround this and other graves of children in the south-eastern corner of the graveyard

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 2: Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle view from town bridge black and white photo credit Jamie Robinson SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Warwick Castle view from town bridge black and white photo credit Jamie Robinson SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

This is the second in my series of glimpses into the subject of my new book, Paranormal Warwickshire, which will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Here is the classic view of Warwick Castle, seen from the town bridge as you enter Warwick from the south. This magnificent medieval fortress makes a dramatic impact upon the visitor, a romantic vision crowning a cliff above the river Avon. Of course, I couldn’t write a book called Paranormal Warwickshire without including Warwick Castle.

Warwick Castle view from the island bridge photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman
Warwick Castle view from the island bridge photo credit Jamie Robinson Paranormal Warwickshire SC Skillman

The history of the castle spans over 1,100 years, as the first fortification was built here by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, in the year 914. A rich succession of stories and characters has kept this castle at the heart of English history ever since: by no means least among them being Richard Neville known as Warwick the Kingmaker (earl from 1449 to 1471) whose final battle is commemorated in The Kingmaker exhibition at the castle.

Warwick Castle view from the Mill Garden Warwick SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Warwick Castle view from the Mill Garden Warwick SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

The castle is now owned and looked after by Merlin Entertainments and is one of England’s top tourist destinations. Whether you tour the castle’s State Rooms and Great Hall; descend into the dungeons; climb to the battlements and admire the view; stand atop the summit of Ethelfleda’s Mound; or view the majestic edifice from the island whilst enjoying a reconstruction of the Wars of the Roses – this site breathes glory, drama and high emotional stakes.

So, we might say, few paranormal tales here – and they have been reported by many – could escape the charge of being conjured up by the imagination.

Caesar's Tower Warwick Castle SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Caesar’s Tower Warwick Castle SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

But is that true of every single story told here? With such a large number of independent curious anecdotes, the weight of accumulated evidence tends to suggest “there are strange things going on behind the scenes.” I recount several stories about the castle in my book Paranormal Warwickshire. I examine the evidence for the most famous one, and consider whether or not it was conjured up by a cunning Earl of Warwick in order to attract visitors. I also come across a few new tales told by recent visitors.

Guy's Tower Warwick Castle SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Guy’s Tower Warwick Castle SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire

Check out my other posts in this series, which I began on 14th August 2020 with Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits, and which brings us up to the publication date of my book Paranormal Warwickshire – 15th November 2020.

The other posts in the series will cover the following locations:

Guy’s Cliffe, Warwick

Gaveston Cross and the Saxon Mill, Warwick

St Mary’s, Warwick

Kenilworth Castle

Abbey Fields, Kenilworth

Leamington Spa

St Michael’s Church, Baddesley Clinton

Stoneleigh Abbey

Thomas Oken’s House, and the Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick

Rugby Theatre and other Rugby locations

Nuneaton locations

Ettington Park Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon

Coughton Court, Alcester

You can pre-order Paranormal Warwickshire here.

The Museum of London, Docklands: a Beguiling Talk About the Social History of the English Pub

The English pub is such a well-loved institution.

Sailortown gallery, Museum of London Docklands
Sailortown gallery, Museum of London Docklands

I know when I lived in Australia for four years, this wonderful institution was much prized for its almost legendary status amongst the Australians, even if they did think we British are a bit weird to go around drinking warm beer all the time.

And at the Museum of London, Docklands, I had the chance to listen to a talk on the social history of this, the most iconic “hostelry”.museum of london docklands

Crowded into The Three Mariners, a replica of a small historical pub within the Museum’s Sailortown recreation, we listened to a most engaging talk on the subject. I learned that the social history of drinking in Britain began when the Romans introduced the taverna to the natives of these isles, and thus began the habit of drinking wine.

Then, later on, after the Romans had given up on us and left, the Vikings invaded – and introduced beer. then we British became used to the alehouses. Ale was a natural choice for England, and later inns began to appear.

During Tudor times, Henry VIII introduced licensing laws.. He wanted the “public house” regulated and ordered.

Then on into the 1600s and 1700s – and gin was the thing. It was very cheap and easy to make; and we know of course from  vivid engravings and from our social history, the effect that the craze for gin had on our society.

And onto William Gladstone – when he was Prime Minister he decided it would be morally superior for us to revert to wine drinking. Prior to his time wine had only been available in kegs. Now he introduced the bottle of wine, and promoted the idea that there was some kind of social refinement or even moral virtue about drinking wine as opposed to beer.

And now of course we have inherited these social  presumptions about our drinking habits. Who, our guide asked, would dare request a strawberry daiquiri when he’s sitting amongst his mates in the pub and they’ve all ordered beer? Social meltdown, at the very least!

It all brought me back to the first time I tasted alcohol. My first love was Asti Spumante; and Blue Nun was the order of the day too, along with Mateus Rose. And when I was at university, I remember such combinations as Guinness and Grapefruit, Dry Martini and Lemonade, and American Dry and Whisky – along with the much-favoured Snowball (Advocaat and Lemonade). And I have long loved a gin and tonic…

But how amusing it is to think how easily we attribute a social value to anything we might do… and no wonder the drinking of alcohol has not escaped this natural tendency of human nature.

But it was great fun to listen to our enthusiastic and lively speaker setting all our ideas about alcohol firmly in the context of English social history.

 

 

A Special Place in Warwickshire to Reflect Upon Our Wills and Fates: St Peter’s Church Wootton Wawen – Saxon Sanctuary

Our wills and fates do so contrary run

That our devices still are overthrown;

Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.

Shakespeare: Hamlet, III, 2, 602

ST PETER'S CHURCH WOOTTON WAWEN SAXON SANCTUARY photo credit Abigail Robinson
ST PETER’S CHURCH WOOTTON WAWEN SAXON SANCTUARY photo credit Abigail Robinson

 Surely the best places to reflect upon the universal truths that lie behind Shakespeare’s words above, are the many historical sites to be found in his county.

Hidden in the heart of rural Warwickshire is a Saxon sanctuary.

It’s in St Peter’s Church, Wootton Wawen, which lies to the north west of  Stratford-upon-Avon, on the way to Henley-in-Arden. In the Lady Chapel, an exhibition tells the story of Wagen’s woodland village in the Forest of Arden.

Wagen was a Saxon lord who owned the land (the manor) of Wootton before 1066, probably holding court in the estate farmstead and hall of Wudu Tun which sat securely within ancient moated banks. He is known to have been a companion of Early Leofric, who founded a monastery at Coventry in 1043. But at the time of his lordship at Wudu Tun near the river Alne, the minster church had been here since the early 700s. I wondered about Lord Wagen as I looked through the exhibition. When William the Conqueror took over, this woodland village in the forest of Arden was one of the many land holdings that came to his attention. He confiscated the land from Wagen and gave it to one of his own pals (as was the way of many English monarchs).  In this case the lucky recipient was Robert of Tosny, Earl of Stafford. History doesn’t record what happened to Wagen.

The Dynasty of the Staffords, lasted through to 1521 when the last one was executed by Henry VIII. Thus centuries of royal favour and privilege came to an end for that particular family.

It is thought there may be a Shakespeare connection with the church at Wootton Wawen: a Victorian author claimed in 1890 that Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway in their courting days used to visit their friend, John Mascall, the Vicar of Wootton, just as Mascall was beginning his 60 year stint as pastor of the parish. The same Victorian author also speculates that John Mascall may have been the officiant at Will and Anne’s marriage in the private chapel of Shottery Manor, owned by the same family who at that time held the manor of Wootton. (And who knows, perhaps John inspired Will for the character of Friar Lawrence from Romeo and Juliet!)

Along with this exhibition in the Saxon Sanctuary, three other streams of thought played into my musings: a TV documentary I had seen about the fifty greatest treasures found by members of the public; a BBC drama production of Shakespeare’s Henry V; and our visit to Bosworth to see the re-enactment of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III, the last Plantagenet king, was killed.

Here are a few historical snippets that sprang into my mind.

A Viking with bad attitude buried his plunder meaning to come back later and collect it – but he never did. It lay in the earth until it was found by chance 1300 years later.

Henry V triumphed at Agincourt then married Catherine daughter of the French king. Henry died when their son was 9 months old. When he grew up, that son,  Henry VI, later revered as a saint, shrank from the role of king whereas his father had been famed for his valour. Meanwhile Catherine had gone off and married Owen Tudor and thus started the Tudor dynasty.

Mary I believed she’d restored Catholicism to England. She meant to secure a Catholic future. But her pregnancy turned out to be a phantom one, her Catholic husband deserted her, she died, and the throne passed into the hands of her protestant half-sister.

So I meditated on the fickle changes of fortune and how they interface with our lives.

English history is full of “what-ifs.” Many potentially great or significant people have been swallowed up by fate and removed from the arena of history and thus prevented from affecting the destiny of the human race. Shakespeare was well aware of that.

In the face of these truths it seems that success or failure are not determined by hard work and striving. Perhaps we have to live with a healthy awareness that they may in a moment be swept away and rendered irrelevant by a quirky twist of fate.

Thus we may find ourselves pondering, as we wander around such a place as the Saxon sanctuary in Wootton Wawen.

How to get there

Stratford Road

Wootton Wawen

B95 6BE

 

Find out more

http://www.saxonsanctuary.org.uk/