Prayer for the Future

This week, we met round a table at the Custard Factory in Birmingham. The NT archaeologists from the far reaches of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has its own NT). A smaller table than in the past. We unpacked out lap-tops and shared our experiences and inspirations.

Day two was to tackle new technology, particularly aerial and ground based 3D laser scanning. Amazing virtual worlds generating the need for masses of digital storage space. How and when should we commission it and how can we put it into a long term archive so that years from today memory hard drives will be dusted down and the data viewed again and compared.

The priests' chantry house right and stables left

The priests’ chantry house right and stables left

Bill, the point-cloud surveyor had offered me a free digital survey of Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory in south I showed it. Every stone could be measured, elevations and plans could be drawn. Just as well it was free because Stoke has very little money. It is a very rare gem but a scar on the conservation sensibilities. Freya, the historic building specialist had given her time and described its significance. There is nowhere like it now.

We almost achieved a grant to re-roof the dovecot and barn..we will keep trying.

The dovecote and roofless north barn

The dovecote and roofless north barn

Inside the dovecote

Inside the dovecote

The name is a good description.. except it’s not a priory.. it’s a chantry (what?).Stoke is a Saxon name for a secondary settlement. Sub is under or at the foot of, Hamdon means hill enclosure or in the celtic sense of Dun,  a hill top stronghold. Very apt, as Ham Hill is the largest Iron Age hillfort in the country.

Part of the hill has been brought down to the little village. The unique golden stone from the hill has been used to build and rebuild the village over at least a 1000 years.

Ham Hill above the Great Barn

Ham Hill above the Great Barn

Stoke Priory (which isn’t) is a lovely group of medieval buildings. It once served a castle or fortified manor and its ornate chapel. Both are now gone and lie under a farm and housing development.

The castle had been built by Lord John Beauchamp and when he died his grieving family wanted to do something for him and his memory. How do you give something to someone when they are dead. The answer, in the early 14th century, was to create a chantry.

They built a small monastic community and gave land and a farm to sustain it and appointed 5 priests to pray for John, his family and the king 5 times a day in the chantry, every day, for ever. The family died, the chapel and castle fell into ruin but the chantry carried on for 245 years until Henry VIII’s son Edward closed it in 1549.

 It is made of such good stone that the chantry house, barns, stables and circular dovecote still survive and are well worth a visit. The Trust have owned the buildings since 1946. We will work for their future, searching for funding to roof the roofless barns and dovecote and maintain Stoke Sub Hamdon Priory (chantry) for ever.. but now for everyone rather than just a wealthy medieval lord and his family.

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