Sunday, April 19, 2009

Winchcombe, Gloucestershire

Toil and rubble

I’ve mentioned before how it’s impossible to live in the Cotswolds without being aware of Cotswold stone. The stuff is everywhere: the lumps, bumps, cliffs and outcrops of old quarries are a familiar sight and in some fields the earth is so dotted with chips and fragments of oolitic limestone that the colour is an almost equal mix of brown and cream. And in many places nearly everything is built of the stone, which has been in use since (of course) the stone age.

So when doing some long overdue gardening this week, we expected to dig up quite a bit of stone – from the displaced lumps of old drystone walls and bed edges to miscellaneous flakes and chunks. But some bits of old rubble are more interesting than others. These two especially. One is a cylinder of stone between four and five inches in diameter; the other a piece worked with a straight incised groove. Chipped and worn as they are, these pieces look like a section of a small shaft (the kind of miniature column that ran up the sides of doorways or windows in high-status medieval buildings) and a length of moulding.

They probably came from Winchcombe Abbey, a large medieval Benedictine monastery that vanished after it was dissolved by Henry VIII. We’re only a few hundred yards form the site of the abbey, and many houses in our street, not to mention our local pub, have bits of medieval carving let into their walls. More than one neighbour has unearthed something more spectacular than our bits of rubble – chunks of Norman zigzag carving, for example.

The buildings of the monasteries that Henry dissolved had many fates. Some were turned into country houses by the grandees who acquired them; some became parish churches; some, like the one in Winchcombe, were largely demolished, and no doubt most of the stone was recycled elsewhere: some 470 years later, we’re still finding the rest.


Thud said...

Archaeology and planting spuds,a good day hey?

Peter Ashley said...

Start knocking on Winchcombe doors now. Who knows, by Christmas you might have the whole lot and can start rebuilding.

Vinogirl said...

How fab is that? I dig and get grapevine roots!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Well, our little bits are modest compared to what some people have in their house walls. And that's the problem with Peter's plan: to rebuild the abbey we'd need to knock down half the town!

Adam said...

I have family in Winchcombe - I'll ask them if they have any stone to spare!