Albion, ancient sites, Art

An afternoon in Hope

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Well, what better option can there be, I ask you? It was still Friday… lunch was over and we did have to get to Stockport for the evening meeting, of course. It is onerous stuff all this travelling… such a hardship to drive through magnificent limestone passes and see the Derbyshire Dales spreading out around us… passing through tiny villages with their sturdy architecture and swathes of snowdrops and backs of winter aconite… depressing really…

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It was so terrible we thought we might be obliged to stop for tea somewhere on the way and a little exploration. And apparently there is an ancient cross in the churchyard in Hope. There is also a great little tea shop just opposite… It was, as they say, a bit of a no-brainer.

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The village is another with a long history. It is difficult to say just how far back it stretches. Certainly there was the Roman Fort of Navio close by and a wide stretch of Roman Road was uncovered in 1955. “Win Hill” to the east and “Lose Hill” to the west dominate the skyline, both over 1500 feet and almost like pyramids on the horizon. Their names are said to represent the outcome of the battle of the armies of King Edwin of Northumbria and King Penda of Mercia, who confronted each other from these vantage points in the 7th century.

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We bundled out of our respective cars… Steve has to drive down from Cumbria, while I had driven up from Buckinghamshire to Yorkshire the previous evening to collect Stuart so we could all meet in Derbyshire before the meeting in Greater Manchester. Off we trotted, the three of us to St Peter’s, the 13th century church in the centre of the village. A wander round the exterior showed us a building covered in carvings, glimpses of glorious stained glass… by Kempe apparently… and there was a Norman font inside. But we were out of luck. The church was locked.

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There were, however, more heads, gargoyles and grotesques than we could have counted. There is a difference, of course, between the two, beyond the name. Gargoyles are waterspouts, designed to carry the rainwater away from the stonework and foundations of the building. The name comes from the same French root… gargouiller… as the verb to gargle. Grotesques, on the other hand, could be said to be purely decorative… though why anyone would want to cover a church with such strange creatures is beyond me. Unless, of course, as we had worked out back in Cerne Abbas, they were symbolic of something with a meaning far deeper. But that’s a whole other story…

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Even the foliate finials were covered in carved faces… they were everywhere. And so, it seemed, were the crosses; for our ‘cross’ had suddenly become plural. Well, quadrupal really! The first was a calvary… this one a series of five octagonal stone steps very similar, in fact, to the one I had seen the day before in Repton. This one lacked its original shaft, and held a later sundial, but it was still a nice find!

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Close by is another ‘cross’… the remains of a guide stoop once used to mark the way across the deserted moorlands. These date largely to the latter part of the 17th century when a royal decree ordered their installation to help those travelling the land. Many still survive in Derbyshire, and in far better condition than this one. Some still bear directions. And some are older stones re-used for this purpose. Balanced upon the stoop is a fragment of carved stone of indeterminate age that seems to bear, significantly for us, the carving of a bird.

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At the other side of the church is the stump which is all that remains of the Eccles Cross, brought here from its original emplacement long ago from its place on high ground to the south of the church. When the stone churches replaced the older Saxon constructions the way between was often marked with crosses… a modern take on the older Herms that watched the ways perhaps.

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The best bit though was undoubtedly the seven foot ‘fragment’ of a Saxon standing cross… the St Peter’s Cross. This dates back to the Saxon church, probably a simple wooden building, that stood here before the Norman conquest in 1066AD. The cross is thought to date back to the 9th century, to the time of King Alfred. It was lost for centuries, removed during the Civil War of the mid 17th century and found buried within the fabric of Hope School when it was demolished in 1858. This, of course, protected the stone from 200 years or more of weathering and so the carvings are, for the most part, surprisingly sharp.

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Interlacing and almost floral designs cover most of its surface, but there are panels with enigmatic figures still visible. Once again we found the motif of the twins and we cannot help but speculate both in terms of their biblical significance and within the terms of our own School what this recurring symbolism might convey.

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There is another ‘cross’ in Hope which stands outside the village, but by this time we were cold and in need of tea… provided in a huge, cheerful teapot in the little tearooms opposite. We sat and worked on the forthcoming workshop for a while longer, then parted temporarily for the journey to Stockport, driving once more up the spectacular Winnat’s Pass and up over the moors. It’s a hard life…

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