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Wychbury: Burial place of Arthur?

Arthur,we think, was a mobile Cavalry commander with some Roman military heritage, possibly based on Sarmatian auxiliary Cavalry based in Britain before the withdrawal of the Legions in 410, and using "Dragon" penants as standards/lances to refortify the courage of the peasantry and terrify the enemy. Apparently, the Dragon symbol arrived in Britain with these auxiliaries, and only later was it adopted as the emblem of the "Combrogi" or British resistance fighters, and ultimately of Wales). He may have travelled around the country as a travelling focus for rallying to the defence of British territory. The legend of a "great battle" at Wychbury comes from an old tract "The affairs of Hagley", a piece of Victorian antiquarianism. Granville Calder a historian, and member of the Wychbury archaeological society, has postulated that Wychbury may be the original site of Mount Badon, a theory with which I cannot concur
(see other entries on this log). However, there is undoubtedly a connection to Amrosius, the victor of Badon, in the place name of Ombersley, and Jean Markale, a Celtic Scholar suggests that Ambrosius and Arthur may have been one and the same person ("The Celts", 1976, Ch.9). As a boy I heard these tales far and wide, so either the population has learned to slavishly repeat dimly remembered tales of this sort, or there may really be some long handed down tradition. My uncle seemed to know a lot, and he grew up nearby Wychbury and lived out his life there. Someone called Kate Westwood suggests strongly that the Round hill near Wychbury is the resting place of Arthur, and an ancient legend associates the place with the tomb of some mighty warrior. She also associates the place with Guinnevere, and I think that the Arthurian mythos is code for the marriage of the King to the land (through "soverieignty" being invested in the folk Queen). Even today, Worcestershire is good horse rearing country, and of course the same is true of neighbouring Gloucestershire. If the British resistance was based on a patrician cavalry elite, as we think, it could well be that Ambrosius was a local Lord with a cavalry background. This is all quite speculative, but we do know that the British consolidated a new territory called Pengwern, based on what is now Powys, but extending well into the midlands , with a capital at Vriconium/Wroxeter. The victory at Badon bought time for the British to organize a defence in the west, but fortune was with the invaders. A terrible plague arrived in the western ports about this time, apparently, and devastated the British half of the Island, whilst leaving the Saxon half unaffected. I think this is one of the trials Gildas cites as being a punishment of God on the British for failing in their fealty to the Roman ideal. Just as when the Raj left India in 1947, so the small clan chieftains would have re emerged to try to exercise authority over their traditional Kingdoms. Pengwern was probably one such. Just as the Dobunni divided their Kingdom centuries before, Pengwern divided into 3 sub Kingdoms. The rich spoils of the Cotswolds, probably heir to an ancient tradition of Villa economy scale farming --- did not go unnoticed. The Hwicce overan Gloucester in 577, and the conquered land became independent of Wessex, and eventually merged with Mercia. We know that the war was not all one way. Morfael ap Glast a prince of Powys led a strong war band against the English and recaptured Caer-Luit-Coyt (Wall by Lichfield) and this is recorded by Welsh bards. Wychbury may not after all, have been a defensive battle, but a British base for a counter offensive? On the whole though, the feeling is that somewhere between 550--580 AD, the Hwicce made a breakthrough into Pengwern. Ironically, one way of explaining this is that the Hwicce were forced to look to the North for spoils, because of Arthur's victory at Badon. Granville Calder thought that the "Germanic incursion" into Pengwern came down the Trent, i. e from the East rather than the South East, as I prefer, and either theory is valid. In fact there could have been an attack on two fronts. There was no blow in the South West for another fifty years after this great British triumph, but this would have meant the Saxon adventurers had to look for easier prey. So, far from being one of Arthur's battles, in a roundabout way it may have been his victory further south that diverted the Hwicce to Wychbury and surrounds. The story as it was told to me by my late Uncle, a local Man, was that the English broke in somewhere nearby St. Kenelm's pass, perhaps near the place called Clatterbach, which he thought was a word recalling the noise of the battle. I was told that the English losses were so severe, that there were not enough left to garrison the new conquest, and also that the dead of both sides were buried together as a mark of mutual honour to the Warriors of both sides. The Chieftains and nobles were buried beneath the Yew groves. Any British survivors may have escaped by an ancient escape route to the west, to the fort known as "Burt (or "Burf") Castle", near Mose, Bridgnorth. Close by this place is a secret ford by means of which the refugees could have crossed the Severn to safety. If the Hwicce really were so depleted, they cannot have pressed the chase, so maybe some of the British escaped to new beginnings? These can only be speculations, of course. The Hwicce, may have been a coalition of Germanic adventurers, and British "quisling" types, co operating with them.This is not as far fetched as it may sound. Cerdic, founder of the Royal House of Wessex, has a British name, whilst Cenwealh, a later King, has a name meaning "Bold Welshman". If Hwicce means "Wise", exactly in what way? Usually, the word has connatations meaning someone who seeks directly experienced divine knowledge rather than through a rite or intermediary, (Sanskrit "Veda", Greek "Oida") and it is possible that the word meant someone who was anti Christian, literally a Witch. Wychbury may mean precisely what it says. The strange atmosphere so often mentioned by so many independent witnesses may well tap into the psychic field generated by a struggle not just for land and spoils, but for people's most sacred beliefs. I believe JRR Tolkien tapped into this when he was a lad in these parts. Arthur was mentioned as being a Christian exemplar (he took images of the virgin into battle with him), so perhaps this was a religious, as well as a patriotic war. Maybe that's why the Yew groves were planted (and Beech, on nearby Clent), the "Wisdom" of the Hwicce, was tree magic, as exemplified in Graves' "The White Goddess". Maybe that's the thread connecting the battle, Kenelm, and "Bella"? Some underground folk memory of the victory of the pagan Gods, over the British Christians? By 613 AD a coalition of British Princes under Brochfael confronted the English at Chester. Aethelfryth King of Bernicia defeated them. From then on, the issue is a power struggle between the separate English Kingdoms, with the British forced back well beyond the Severn (except for the odd Kingdom of Elmet in modern Yorkshire).


Greensforge Roman fort, Holy Austin Rock & other oddities, Near Kinver, Staffs.

Although this is a site which is well documented historically, precluding speculations, it is well worth studying if you are interested in the Roman conquest of the West Midlands in about 46CE by Legio 14 "Gemina". The fort, or rather two forts, one opposite the other, are strategically situated on the confluence of the Smestow and Dawley, tributaries of the Stour, to guard an ancient road into mid Wales known as the "Hen Fford". Traces of this pre historic trackway have been found on Highgate common near Enville. The Romans built a road from Droitwich, passing through Broome, Wollaston and Stourton nr. Stourbridge, and terminating at Greensforge. There is a particularly spectacular and clear aerial view of the road in Shepphard Freire's "Brittania; Roman Britain from the Air", in fact in the centre pages. The road is clearly visible as it runs past Stourbridge Rugby Club. At Greensforge a fort was built in 47 CE, presumably to secure offensive operations against Caradoc/Caractacus, who was at large in the hills of Shropshire, and possibly to defend against a thrust by him from the west into the lands of the Cornovii tribe, some of whom had allied with Rome. Curiously, in the 19th Century, a huge encampment said to have been contemporary with Caradoc was found at Wrottesley near Wolverhampton, and it was said to have been his "camp", with British style sword blades and spears said to have been among the finds. Certainly, Greensforge and the neighbouring cohort fortress at Penkridge, were ideally placed to guard the Severn approaches. Aerial photographs of the forts at Greensforge are spectacular, and on the ground, on the corner of the lane near the Navigation pub, some of the embankment defences seem to be still visible. At some time following Caradoc's defeat, the whole fort seems to have been decommissioned, and rebuilt opposite. Three vast marching camps, easily accommodating 3,000 men were constructed, and we must suppose that this force was marched down with celerity from Viriconium (Wroxeter, Salop) to intercept an anticipated blow from Boudicca's allies the Coritani, from the east in AD 60. Fortunately for the Roman garrison, she was defeated somewhat further east, and the province of Brittania saved. However, it is interesting to think that these unassuming potato fields on the edge of the Black Country were once at the centre of attention in the Roman conquest of these Islands! The forts were excavated in 1968, and there were many interesting finds. Some of these are still displayed at Kidderminster museum. Nearby, Kinver Edge has many Roman marching camps, one of which seems to have been built on top of a previous British hill fort. Also, a site called the "Roman Baths" exists, but this seems to be a local Victorian whimsy. Also of interest to those exploring the area for the first time, are the"Rock Houses" at Holy Austin Rock near Kinver. These are said to be the oldest continuously occupied cave dwellings in Europe. One of the houses has been refurbished and is open to visitors. No one can say how long these sandstone caves have existed, but at Wolverley nearby, flint tools have been found in similar caves, and they may have been used during the last glaciation. There were other caves at Drakelow and also at Gibralter, a sandstone feature near Whittington. The old path that runs through the latter past Yew Tree House, is not only a lovely unspoilt walk (especially in the Spring when the Blue bells are out) but is, I think, a very ancient path, perhaps going back to the Mesolithic era. The last dwelling at Kinver was occupied, selling teas and ice creams, until the late 1960's. The sandstone is warm in winter, and cool in summer. Water was available from the nearby "giant's well", but had to be carried up to the houses, and it was sanitary considerations which finally led to the caves being abandoned. Religious ascetics used the caves during the middle ages and Holy Austin was one such friar. Other "Troglydites" included "Cunning women" such as "Nanny", after whom "Nanny's Rock" is named. The dominating feature of the village is St. Peter's church, visible for many miles around. This is also of sandstone, and has ancient features from Norman times. The views from the Church and the Edge are quite a spectacle, considering that the Edge is not a very high point in the scheme of things; however, the Stour cuts a deep gorge here and this accounts for the illusion of height. There is a toposcope at the summit, and nearby, the Worcestershire way and Staffordshire way converge, at Kingsford Country park. There are a few other oddities in this area too. One is the now disappeared chapel built by the protestant divine Richard Baxter in the 17th century. Baxter was especially concerned to minister to the cave dwellers and eventually retired to the Drakelow area to meditate. The church was a certain marker for the Luftwaffe and Red Air force during the cold war years, for the underground airengine testing centre and later County Nuclear shelter for Worcestershire in caves that were excavated below by thousands of mainly Irish labourers in the 1940's. About a dozen were killed in a major rockfall. Baxter's church was therefore knocked down, and now a monument to it stands nearby. The underground chambers are now closed to the public, but walkers will certainly encounter ventilation shafts to it walking in the woods above. The whole area is national trust heathland, so watch out for Adders, which are quite common here! Looking from the summit east, towards the Clent hills, the underlying sandstone produces heathland, and as a boy I was shown features that were said to be Round barrows. The largest of these, is "Round Hill", located next to a modern sewage works along Gibbet Lane, an old rough track now frequented by fly tippers (sadly). Look for the electricity pylons that stride along the heath, and you will see a small secluded farm (Round hill farm). The low tumulous is alleged to be a barrow, and is overgrown with gorse and small tree saplings. The Roman road from Droitwich to Greensforge ran a few hundred yards from the barrow, beneath the ridge behind High Park School, and directly beneath High park farm. Way back in the 19th century, a "Roman Eagle" was discovered somewhere near the course of the Roman road, and there was press interest (The "Black Country Bugle" records this) but the item turned out to be from a bedstead, rather than evidence of the passing of the Legions! The barrow was excavated by a Victorian clergyman, I heard, and "human remains" were found. A few hundred yards to the south, a bump in the land near Bunker's hill wood seems suspiciously like another barrow. This is the "hump" just past the cottages on Whittington hall lane going towards horse bridge lane. The way it rises in the land just cannot be natural. This must have been productive farm land for as long as people have been in these islands, and there is no reason to think that neolithic farmers would have ignored the potential for grazing sheep, and no doubt would have become rich and powerful from the trade in wool and cloth. Perhaps it was these people who constructed these monuments? The heath itself is haunted, it is said, by the ghost of William Howe, who was one of the last men to be gibbeted in England in the early 19th century, thus the ghoulish place name. When the lane was known as Fir Tree lane, he shot the local squire, Benjamin Robbins of Dunsley Hall, as he was returning from Stourbridge having about him much gold, following a livestock sale. Howe was discovered spending his ill gotten gains in the Whittington Inn (not the old manor now going by that name, but its predecessor in an old house nearby, on Horsebridge lane). The Manor is said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Jane Grey, "The 9 day Queen", who stayed here as a girl. Perhaps this accounts for the eerie atmosphere that sometimes prevails, particularly at night. Certainly, the ghost stories are legion, and the area has always been popular with people looking for "supernatural" and neo pagan stimuli, and they in their turn probably feed into what is already an "evil" atmosphere. Thirty thousand spectators came to see Howe Gibbeted, and the stories began following a visit by some boys who had gone to see the rotting corpse, they asked it, "How bist thee, Will Howe"? And the ghostly reply came back, "Cold and Clammy!" A lady was famously scared out of her wits by an apparition of Howe, (his neck "stretched"), as she walked on the heath by night, and a Victorian account, has Howe banished to the underworld at dawn, just as he has attacked a passing wayfarer! My impressions (and I grew up on the heath) are of a place long associated with death, the otherworld and guardians of the threshold of the otherworld, a place perhaps where excarnation of corpses was practiced (i've had spooky dreams of such a scenario, before I even knew what "excarnation" was), and I kid you not, these emanations do seem to particularly centre on the barrow itself. One more fact worthy of record, is that the hill was the place where Charles (later King Charles the second) swapped his blown horses during the flight from the battle of Worcester in 1651. The Whittington Inn claims that this took place there, but this is incorrect. The King and his companions rode through Broadwaters skirting Kidderminster, through Cookley and crossed the Stour at Caunsall. They must have skirted Kinver too, and crossed the Stour again at the Stewponey, riding over the Heath to rendevouz at the Round Hill, where they were met (it is said) with fresh horses and information that Stourbridge was not guarded by militia. This turned out to be mistaken, apparently, and they had a minor skirmish with militia in the vicinity of Amblecote. There was a small cavalry engagement in the first Civil war on the heath, between "Tinker Fox" of nearby Stourton Castle, and Prince Rupert, who was staying at Wollescote Hall, near Stourbridge. Stourton Castle dates to Circa 1190, and was the Royal Hunting lodge and Royal Forester's lodge in the days when Kinver Forest was a vast expanse of woodland merging with the Wyre and Morfe Forests. King John was a regular visitor, and another structure between Swindon and Greensforge is still called "King John's hunting lodge" locally. Cardinal Reginald Pole, who became Cardinal of England in the 16th Century, was born at the Castle. As a boy, I was told that the Angevin Fortifications were erected atop an original Saxon fortified Manor built by Ethelfleda, the "Lady of the Mercians", but can find no evidence to corrobarate this. Further south, around Ismere and Axborough, there are many "bumps" in the land that look man made, and there is a record of an Anglo Saxon Royal hall having stood somewhere around this area when the Magasentae line were the dominant Royal line in Mercia. Other tumuli are to be found near Churchill near Harborough hill.


St. Kenelm's Legend, and other Clent mysteries.

First I want to look at an ancient legend, that of St. Kenelm. The legend was popularized by Geoffrey Chaucer, who was at one time the Master of the Forest of Feckenham in which the Clent Hills lay. In his "Canterbury Tales" the legend is quoted, and we must try to imagine these times, when Saints were venerated with as much excitement as modern day pop stars. Kenelm was the boy King of Mercia (in the late 6th Century), and in his minority his sister (in some accounts Aunt) plotted with her lover to take him riding in the Clent hills. Kenelm dreamed the night before the expedition that he saw a place with a white cow in a pasture. Also he saw a white dove in a tree, which he climbed to survey the 4 corners of the Kingdom. His nurse, hearing the dream, knew immediately that the boy was to die. The next day, Kenelm was taken into the hills and beheaded. A spring was said to rise out of the spot where his blood soaked the soil (a very ancient motif) and the dove (which as predicted witnessed the murder from a nearby tree) was said to have flown to Rome, where it dropped a message to the Pope at Old St. Peter's: "In Clent in Canbago, Kenelm Kinge borne lyeth under a Thorne, his hede off shorn". ("In Clent by cowbatch, beneath a thorn, lieth Kenelm, King born, his head offshorn.") How the message was set down in writing is not clear, though in such cases, who knows what Magical processes may be involved? Envoys were sent to England from Rome, and these were guided to the spot by a mysterious white cow, and an old hag or crone. Here the body was discovered, and the site grew into a large village, Kenelmstowe, now lost. Later, the nearby abbey at Halesowen profited massively from the pilgrimages to the site. The whole story is, however, untrue, an invention to validate Christian worship at the site. So why did it take such a hold on the public mind? Certain indications point to a possible shamanic origin to the Kenelm legend and folklore. He was said to have attained kingship aged 7, and 7 is associated with divine kingship. Nowadays, the notion of "sacrifice" conjurs up images redolant of the film "The Wicker Man" (itself derived from popular misconceptions about pre Roman sacrificial rites and customs. Originally, however, sacrifice in ancient British society would have been literally "Sacrum Facere" "to make sacred", and this would have been a voluntary submission of the individual neophyte to the will of the divinity(ies) --- a process of self realization and unification. This could be achieved with greatest efficacy amidst "Liminal" landscapes, already imbued with an atmosphere of wonder, awe, fear, and secrecy, and well away from profane settlement or "ordinary" aspects of agricultural & pastoral life. These rites were transformed by propagandists in the Christian era, into acts of diabolical murder, and evil. In his dream the night before his death, Kenelm ascends a tree, and takes the form of a white bird or dove. These are possible shamanic indicators too, especially as his dream is a portent of his own death. He is beheaded, and dismemberment is associated with shamanic journeying (see J. Campbell "Primitive Mythology" et al). His name is derived from two runes, "Ken" and "Elm". The first means, spiritual knowledge in the form of a lighted brand. The second, is the tree representing the undifferentiated dark aspect of the goddess in the realms of death. So, Ken Elm literally means --- "He who knows/illuminates the realm of death" --- very apt, in view of the legend. The "old crone" who guides the papal envoys to his grave beneath the thorn, is none other than the waning moon, the "old hag" or layer out of the lunar triplicity, Virgin, Mother and crone. This is the dark aspect of the Goddess (AKA Lilith/Laylah). On the site, the sacred well is the spot where the river (Stour) rises. This entire area is a superb example of what archaeologists call a "liminal" environment (see "Seahenge" by Francis Pryor e.g) and hills, water sources, as well as the numerous meres and lakes which were so prominent in the landscape would have meant that this was probably a sanctifed place from at least neolithic times, with the successive incomers more or less adapting the long established rites associated with the well. Corpses laid out in trees are a very ancient motif indeed, as is the punishment and execution of malefactors to purify and rejuvenate the land. Nearby, in 1943, the body of a woman was discovered by a schoolboy, Bob Farmer, & three friends, entombed in a tree. She had been suffocated and the body placed in the tree very soon after. The body was estimated to have been there 18 months. In July 1941 two men walking in Hagley wood heard female cries. In Stourbridge someone unknown wrote "Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?" as a graffito. This was replicated elsewhere, by the same hand in 3 inch high chalk letters. A "Wych Elm", it ought to be noted, is a tree whose timber has the particular quality that it does not decay when exposed to water beneath ground, a quality that meant it was a particular favourite of coffin makers, and for underground water pipes etc. In fact, the tree discovered by four local lads whilst they were bird nesting, was a Wych Hazel, but was known locally as the Wych Elm, possibly to preserve the runic tree alphabet connection that forms the latter part of the Saint's name, or probably as likely because of simple error. The symbolical connection with the elemental otherworld of water is noteworthy, as is the fact that in this case, the tree itself was a well known local gathering place for pagans, who would have been attracted by the unusual appearance of the tree, with its flexible branches resembling a Witch's wild shock of hair, it was said). Also note, that the graffitist does not ask "Who killed Bella?", but "Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?". Other subsequent grafittos appeared in which the name was amended to "Lubella", but the question was still oriented to the fateful tree. More recently, (see Sunday Independent article below) the cryptic message reappeared on Hagley monument, and there was renewed press interest. The author can reveal that this was a publicity stunt by "The Passion Killers", a 1980's rock group, who wrote an eponymous song. More recently, a successful opera has been written based on the events! The Hwicce, of course, was the name of the local tribe that became the new overlords of Wychbury in the 6th century (pronounced as "Wyche"). These connections may seem recondite, but that is the point. Everyone in the entire urban area was aware of the story, but only a few would have been able to piece together the complex symbolism. The mystery remains unsolved. But who was Bella? Local theories suggested that either she was a German spy (nearby is the Black country and Birmingham with all their war industries, and also the Rolls - Royce works at Hartlebury) who came to grief in some way. Later, someone with connections to British Intelligence confirmed this story to a local Newspaper; or was a victim of a gypsy or Pagan ritual killing (this was the theory favoured by the late Margaret Murray, a popular folklorist of the time. It seems that the hand could not have been physically detached by a wild animal without having gone past the obstruction of the rest of the decaying corpse. She thought that the entire event was steeped in evidence of Black Magic, a "hand o' glory" type killing in which the hand is buried separately. Entombment in the tree was a way of preventing harm from the Witch beyond the grave. Odd things were going on around this time, when Britain stood in maximum danger of being invaded by Germany (operation "Sea Lion"). Aleister Crowley was said to have approached a New Forest Coven, who persuaded an Old male member to sacrifice himself by exposure, so as to raise "the cone of power" to deter an invasion. In Warwickshire a farm labourer was found impaled with a pitchfork at a Pagan site etc. Was this another such scenario?
Other people thought the Woman was a prostitute or barmaid (a barmaid at a local pub "The Chequers" went missing at the right time). The Woman had been suffocated, it seems, and the piece of Taffeta that strangled her had been stuffed into her mouth, where it remained when the corpse was exhumed. But why "Bella"? Was this a ruse to throw police off the scent? And why the tree disposal of the body? In Warwickshire at about this time there was a ritual murder, and this was blamed on a Coven. Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers, but the tree concerned was within a mile of the Wychbury site. Maybe all or some of these theories may be conflated? A modern day press spokesman for the police, a Mr. Carl Baldacchino thinks the "Bella" graffito is merely a "joke". (quoted in an article entitled: "Murder, Mystery, and half a century of suspense." Sunday Independent, August 1999). He must have a pretty wyrd sense of humour. For my own money, what I am suggesting is that Myths are intrinsic and immanent in the landscape, (so called "Earth Mysteries") and it is strange how the macabre does seem to cling around these liminal places separated as they may be by centuries and Millenia, but still reproducing these powerful events. What Mr. Baldacchino does is what generations of the ignorant and profane have done before him, by belittling what he cannot understand or explain. As Levy-Bruhl says, "If the sacred myths were to be divulged, they would be profaned and would thus lose their mystic qualities. Their deeper meaning and efficacy were revealed only to the initiate. Non initiates regarded them merely as amusements". ("La Mythologie Primitive", 1935). Nearby, are the series of monuments erected by Lord Lyttleton (descendant of one of the Gunpowder plotters), the "Temple of Theseus" which was the finest example of neo Doric architecture in Europe at its inception, the Hagley Monument, erected I think in memory of his wife who predeceased him, and atop Adam's hill, the "Four stones" -- an example of neo megalithic romanticism. The poet Shenstone had a grand plan for reordering the landscape hereabouts also. About two and a half miles away, in the village of Romsley, a modern commemorative sculpture park has been set up at St. Kenelm's well and shrine. This is quite nicely done, really, and the contrast of this peaceful and sacred environment, with a birds eye view over Birmingham City centre and the Black country, is pleasant. The old tradition of tying cloth rags to nearby trees, as a form of sympathetic magic (i.e as the cloth rots, so the disease or distress of the bringer is ameliorated) is obviously still practiced here, and coin offerings are also made. Unfortunately, sometime in the autumn of 2005 the tree was desecrated, and the rags and other items removed. Whoever has done this must either have acted out of malice, ignorance or prejudice, it seems to me, but they are only a transitory problem. New offerings have been made, and the tree will soon be festooned with other offerings, and the healing water will always be there to transfigure the profane, and bestow endless blessings. There have been such offerings since Roman times, since they have been discovered. A propitious time to do this is said to be before dawn, approaching the well from the east, in silence, and circling the well 3 times clockwise, before making the offering, and preferably leaving before sunrise. Dates which are propitious will depend upon the inherent belief system of the pilgrim, so, for a Christian, maybe Easter tide or Christmas etc. for a Pagan, one of the quarterly points on the Sun's journey, or on a new (waxing) Moon for actions designed to attract, or waning to expel the unwanted. St. Kenelm's feast day is July 17th, and so this may be suitable, and in olden times, a custom known as "Crabbing" the Parson was practiced, whereby children pelted the incumbent with Crab Apples! The latter has fallen into disuse, apparently. The significant point, I think, is that it is the water itself which is the energizer and healer, and that purification and transformation ---- as well as unification (all water is, ultimately, One) is the goal. For the Celts, and those who had long preceded them here, wells and springs were a literal interface to the otherworlds, and worship and ritual practice at them could not be stopped, even by explicit pronouncements by the Church (instead, they Christianised the practices, ascribing the healing powers to the Saints). There are many other springs and wells in the Clent and Waseley hills (for instance, Alfred's well, near Dodford, and it is said by local dowsers that the area is a centre of convergence for "Ley lines", the mysterious lines running straight to the west, as discovered by the Herefordshire businessman, Alfred Watkins in the early 2oth century. Well worship is a fairly reliable indicator of the survival of pre Saxon culture, I have been told, and there are still a few Wells that are active in Herefordshire (which was a puppet statelet of the English known as "Arkenfeld", with the vast majority of the country people being of Celtic origin. Another area where Wells are still dressed is the Peak district, and of course there are still many active Wells along the Celtic fringe. One fascinating question is, does the survival of St. Kenelm's indicate a local Celtic (or even pre Celtic) survival? Perhaps, and this was the view of the Rev. Baring Gould, who wrote "Bladys of the Stewponey", a kind of Celtic mini epic set in Staffordshire! A silent film based on the novel was made in 1919, using the Whittington Inn at Kinver as the "Stewponey", and local farming and village people as extras. Though the Victorians did lionize the Celts (and "free" Saxon race) and did much harm with their romanticized musings --- there is a "Celtic" feel to this area. Small villages amidst deep gorges between hills like Clent or Kinver, could easily be in Wales. When the Nordic incomers arrived, instead of proscribing such practices, they honoured and continued them, and so we have here not only a potent example of such practice, but one that has a long and probably unbroken pedigree, which seems accepted by both sides of the Spiritual spectrum. Long may it be so.


Wychbury hillfort origins?

The name "Wychbury" would seem to derive from the English "Hwicce" tribe who intruded into this part of Worcestershire in the 6th century. Certainly the story of St. Kenelm, a princeling murdered by a wicked Sister and her lover to disposses him of his Kingdom, seems to centre around the tribe. "Hwicce" seems derived from a word meaning "knowledge"or "wisdom". However, the Kenelm story is a historical impossibility, for we know he lived on into adulthood. The beheading of the prince, and a sacred spring arising from the spot where he fell -- seems to derive from a much more ancient source (see other entries on this weblog), and a sort of shadowy magic still casts a spell over this place. We know that in some ancient cultures, Kings were sacrificed as the "dragon power" waned, and that virgin princes were sacrificed to honour the "soveriegnty" of the land etc. Although these feel like flights of fancy as they are perused on TMA, they take on an altogether different feel when one is alone in the Yew Groves on a moonless night! The fort itself is an impressive bastion. But who would have been the potential enemy? Indeed, was there an enemy at all, or was the place merely a gesture of power and prestige by the local people? My conjecture is that the percieved enemy may have been either the Ordovicians of North Wales, or the Cornovii of Staffordshire & Shropshire. The borderlands of Worcestershire & Staffordshire were the original border between the Dobunni and the Cornovii. The latter were an aboriginal and pastoral tribe, underdeveloped with no coinage, and only imported ceramic wares from the Malvern area. Mike Hodder an Archaeologist from Birmingham postulates that the fort "served" an area approximating to the parishes of Oldswinford (Stourbridge) and Kingswinford, whilst the predecessor of Dudley Castle, an Iron age fort on Castle hill, served a similar function for Dudley/Cradley etc. Excavations have revealed Horse furniture at Wychbury, apparently, and I am reliably informed that the Round Hill site produced an Iron age Dagger, burial urn and human cremated remains. Nearby, a "Villa" type residence was discovered, and also a beacon tower (Wychbury is on excellent sightlines for Malvern, Abberley and Clee, where, no doubt, others were operational). The Dobunni had 2 separate but related Kingdoms in Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, and may well have dominated the Northern outposts of this territory by fortifying the westernmost point in the Clent hills and making this a nexus for their trade with the North midlands (and to guard the approaches to the Severn), not least in salt, which we know pre dates the Roman occupation of Droitwich. A project like a hillfort was costly in terms of resources and labour, and the concept was much like a feudal Castle of the middle ages. The people worked the soil, but the Lord gave protection in times of war. Some person of power must have overseen the construction of the fort, and of course there may have been additional uses other than defensive military ones, all along. The two sources of wealth and power in the area at this time, were wool (British wool was prized across Europe long before the Romans), and salt (especially salted beef, which was a valuable source of preserved protein in the lean Winter months). My theory is that the salt trade was the origin of the local nobles power and prestige, and that a network of ancient saltways pre dates the Roman road system that concentrated on Droitwich. More and more evidence is accumulating about the sophistication and extensiveness of the British road system, and there is no reason to doubt that "Salinae" was the hub of a considerable communications system at least 3,000 years ago. The problems in terms of security came when travellers had to approach the interface of tribal territories, where goods in transit would be vulnerable to attack from a small but determined banditry, or even war parties on a bigger scale, especially near major water obstacles. Could this explain why Wychbury was built where it was? Strong escort parties, and good beacon signaling within a politically cohesive area would have meant security and wealth for the Dobunni. But just ten miles away, in what the Romans later called "Salopium", literally meaning "The Outback" or "The Bush", were wilder people, noted for their ferocity and impetuosity, the Cornovii. The River trade and forest routes would be easy places to ambush the valuable commodities, and of supplementing a meagre, underdeveloped lifestyle. Thus, in my hypothesis, this Fort was constructed as a depot and place from which to sally forth, rather than as a defensive work per se, although this was to become its ultimate fate. Usually, these forts were not great centres of population in themselves, perhaps housing a core of 100 -- 200 people of the same clan or family group, the bastions and redoubts only coming into play when a large incursion threatened, and people had to come in from the outlying areas (lit at night by a beacon on the summit). But above all, they were symbolic of power, and the more extended concept of tribe that came with the population explosion in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (i.e about 1000 B.C). Another crucial element is the nearby river Hafren (Severn) which would have provided a means of transporting both finished woollens, such as blankets, and the precious salt. I've postulated that this may be a possible connection to the site known as "Burf Castle", an Iron age hillfort downstream of Bridgnorth, 12 miles west, on a secret ford, by means of which people and cattle could walk across the River. One more thing was that in the Iron age, the Stourbridge area was a series of almost impassable meres and swamps, and was little changed even when Charles Stuart fled for his life through it in 1651 (he needed guides to prevent being quagmired). Clent, the local village, may be a British word (though in the Domesday book, it is called "Klinter", which may refer to a Nordic origin meaning, "wooded slope". Anyone who has seen the "Paps of Anu" in Co. Kerry will notice the resemblance of the Clent hills to Female breasts, and the presence of a spring would certainly not have been lost on the Celts, who may well have identified this site with Danu ("heavenly waters"), the goddess associated with the famous "Tuatha de Danaan",the children of Danu". If this were the case, the hills would have been a sacred site for the local population,and a centre of pilgrimage, yet another reason why its defence would have been culturally vital. In the days before the Black Country had been despoiled by industry and urban settlement, the legend was that Thunor, a derivative of Thor, resided on the summit of Clent, and Woden/Odin sat astride Turner's hill near Rowley Regis. The former hurled a stone at the latter, and this was known as the "Halestone" , until local Ministers disposed of it due to it's evil associations. It is worth remembering, that it is said that if one draws a line on a map east from Clent, there is no higher land until one reaches the Urals, on the border of Siberia. The significance of this may be, that the incoming Germanic/Nordic peoples were probably somewhat overawed by the height of the place, and may have accorded magical qualities to it for that reason alone. The beech and yew groves were, I contend, planted by the conquering "Hwicce", to subdue the spirits of the local conquered folk. Many legends say that the fallen warriors of one or both sides, are buried beneath the trees at Wychbury/Clent. Legend tells of a huge battle here, some say between Romans and "Britons" others say between Saxons and Britons. We know that there was little resistance to the Romans when they came around 45 or 46AD (the 14th "Gemina" Legion") so, it seems the latter is more likely to have been the origin of the legend. This would account for legends with King Arthur being recounted about the site. Although this is only conjecture, the historical British war leader Ambrosius does have definite local connections as attested in the place name of Ombersley. Arthur is said to be buried (astride his horse) beneath Saddleback hill, on a slope beneath Wychbury. At one time, Wychbury hill was targeted by the Highways Agency for a new road underpass which would have been tunnelled under the hill itself. There was significant protest, and the plan has been dropped, for the time being.
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