Friday, 29 May 2015

The Marooned Roman Bridge

Piercebridge Co Durham Roman Bridge remains

In a field just outside the small village of Piercebridge in Co Durham, lie the stranded remains of a Roman bridge, marooned after the River Tees moved Northwards.

Piercebridge Roman Bridge

I was really exicited when I first heard of this site! It being not too far away from where I live, I rushed over to see it. The idea of being able to walk around and examine the remains of a Roman bridge, and the weirdness of it now being isolated in a field was also too much to resist. The reality did not disappoint and I was awestruck both by the uniqueness of the site, and also the other interesting things in Piercebridge...
 

The Bridge

The jumbled stones of the bridge, discovered during gravel quarrying in the seventies, are believed to be part of a large bridge that carried Dere Street, the Roman road linking York and Corbridge, across the River Tees.

Piercebridge Roman Bridge reconstructed
How the bridge may have looked (a picture of the peeling sign!)

It was the second bridge built at Piercebridge by the Romans, and is part of a much bigger Roman site, linking with a fort and vicus (settlement) on the other side of the river.

There is also some surviving evidence for the first bridge, including timber piles within the exisiting river. This was sited approximately 200 metres upstream of the second bridge and was probably made entirely of timber. The Tees is known for fierce flooding and it is thought that this may have been washed away sometime in the late 2nd century. The second bridge was then built downstream with stone abutments and strong stone piers, which supported a timber structure. It is estimated that this second bridge would have been over 120 metres in length, and the remains in the field provide important evidence of the skills of the Roman engineers.  

Piercebridge Roman Bridge stone block with worked hole
Piercebridge Roman Bridge stone block with worked hole

Piercebridge Roman Bridge southern abutment and paving
Piercebridge Roman Bridge southern abutment and paving


The Southernmost abutment is still standing and displays the holes of the iron straps that held the blocks together, as well as holes for the timber. There are also many other tumbled blocks displaying the 'iron-strap' recesses, a few with lead remaining in the holes.


Piercebridge Roman Bridge stone block with worked hole
Piercebridge Roman Bridge stone block with worked holes

A curious feature of the bridge is that the area beneath it was completely paved. This has led to an alternative theory that it was not, in fact, a bridge, but a navigation dam with an overspill channel. However, most archaeologists believe the paving was put in place to facilitate the flow of the river and protect the piers.

Piercebridge Roman Bridge paving
Piercebridge Roman Bridge paving
 
A fascinating site, managed by English Heritage, and free to visit (just park in the main car park of the George Hotel - in the far corner is a sign,) and yet Piercebridge has more to offer.... 


The Fort

A short walk over the existing bridge, turning right at the end down some steps, under an archway at the side of the first houses, then along a footpath on the left, and you reach the excavated remains of the Eastern elevation of a large Roman fort which was possibly called Morbium.
Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations
Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations

Built in about 260 AD and occupied until well beyond 400 AD, most of this large fort now lies beneath the existing village green and surrounding buildings (which always seem to me to be mirroring the fort, as they surround the green in a rectangle.)

Piercebridge Village
Piercebridge Villag
Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations
Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations

The excavated remains include the East gate, a major courtyard building, possibly part of the commander's house, and parts of the defences, which are fascinating. 

"First of all there was a ditch with a very effective 'ankle breaker' gully in the bottom. If you survived this, then you had to cross the berm - the area between the ditch and the fort wall. This was littered with lilia - pits disguised with brushwood and possibly filled with sharpened wooden stakes. Intruders would have met a horrible end if they were unlucky enough to be impaled on these stakes."  - text from one of the information boards.


Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations
Piercebridge Roman Fort East Gate excavations

In the field opposite these excavations, was the civilian vicus (settlement.) This dates from aroundd 100 AD, predating the fort, and leading some to believe that there may have been an earlier fort, as these settlements usually developed after a fort was built. No evidence of an earlier fort has yet been found, however. 


My Grandfather's Clock

After visiting the bridge and the fort, consider dropping into the George Hotel, an interesting place to ponder the past whilst sipping at your preferred refreshment....it was a clock in this 16th century coaching inn that inspired American songwriter Henry Clay Work to write his greatest hit.

Whilst staying here, in 1874, Work heard the story of the longcase clock, which was said to have been owned by two brothers named Jenkins, who used to run the inn. When one brother died, the clock began losing time, and it stopped forever upon the death of the other. Work returned to America and wrote 'My Grandfather's Clock,' an instant hit.....  

"tick tock, tick tock, it stopp'd short, never to go again, when the old man died...."

The George Hotel is also said to have hosted the infamous highwayman, Dick Turpin....

All in all, Piercebridge is a great little place to visit and spend a few hours musing over our amazing history....
 

Thanks for reading!

Anne

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Sources and further information:  

The Bridge and Fort: 
Time Team at Piercebridge  (Youtube video of the episode)
The Bridge: 
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Friday, 15 May 2015

The Wayside Shrine of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag Knaresborough Yorkshire


Carved out of the rock face alongside Abbey Road, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire,
 and measuring only twelve feet by eight by seven feet high, 
is the charming Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag .

For centuries this wayside shrine was a place where pilgrims could call, find peace and make quiet prayer. Today it is owned by Ampleforth Abbey and run as a 'Marian' shrine (a holy place dedicated to the Virgin Mary) by a volunteer group.

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag Knaresborough Yorkshire

Built in 1408 by someone named in a Royal Charter as 'John the Mason,' who, legend has it, built the shrine after his son miraculously survived a rock fall in the nearby quarry. This is purely conjecture, but it was almost certainly used as a chapel by the workers of the large quarry that provided stone for the construction and ongoing repair of nearby Knaresborough Castle.

The Chapel was very popular with pilgrims and visitors in the 17th and 18th centuries and was often confused with another nearby cave, occupied by the 12th century hermit, Saint Robert.

Wood sculpture by Tommy Craggs Knaresborough
The area is full of caves...and other things! (Wood sculpture by Tommy Craggs)

The relief carving of the knight to the right of the doorway probably dates from the late 17th or early 18th century, but may possibly be much earlier. There is strong evidence that the head was remodelled in Victorian times.

Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag Knaresborough Yorkshire
Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag
Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag Knaresborough Yorkshire
Medicinal herb garden to the front of the Chapel




















Inside the Chapel, there is a carved altar, a vaulted ceiling, roof bosses and gargoyles. When built, the Chapel was on the route that lead to Knaresborough's priory, which was destroyed during the reformation.

Ivy clad tree in Nidd Gorge, Knaresborough
Ivy clad tree in Nidd Gorge, Knaresborough

The Volunteer Group who care for the Chapel, have continued to raise funds to improve and maintain it, and if you would like to offer any help, details and further information can be found from the link below. There are also some photos of the interior.

Viaduct and riverside Knaresborough
Viaduct and riverside Knaresborough
  
The Chapel is open 2-4pm on Sundays, in the summer, and is just one of the many interesting things to see in Knaresborough, which is well worth a prolonged visit....
There's a great walk in the links below, which passes the chapel and the wood sculptures.


Thanks for reading!

Toni

Justbod Team


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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Durrow Cross: a hand-burnt Celtic Knotwork design by bod


Hand burnt celtic knotwork design

My latest piece, the Durrow Cross, is a Celtic knot work cross design, adapted from a detail in the Book of Durrow, a medieval  illuminated manuscript gospel book in the 'insular art' style that was probably created between 650 and 700AD.

It is not known for certain where this beautiful hand created manuscript was created, perhaps Durrow Abbey itself, in Ireland, or possibly Lindesfarne monastery or Iona Abbey. It is known as the Book of Durrow, as it is known to have been at Durrow Abbey by 916, and is now held at Trinity College, Dublin.

It is the oldest surviving complete illuminated insular gospel book, predating the Book of Kells by over a century.

My 'Durrow Cross' has been adapted from a central motif in one of the 'carpet' pages. Carpet pages are a feature of the insular illuminated manuscripts, being pages of mainly geometrical ornamentation, and are typically placed at the beginning of each of the four Gospels in Gospel books. 'Carpet pages' describe those pages in Christian, Islamic or Jewish illuminated manuscripts that contain little or no text and which are filled entirely with decorative motifs.


Book of Durrow, MS 57 fol.85v Carpet page preceding St. Mark's Gospel
Carpet Page, Book of Durrow. (See sources)

'Durrow Cross' has been hand-burnt onto birch wood, mounted into a 16 cm oak frame, and finally polished with wax. Every stage of each process has been done by me, by hand.


Durrow Cross hand burnt celtic knotwork design


It is currently available as one of nine designs in 
our 'Dark and Light' range of hand burnt plaques.

I am now thinking that this would also look particularly good in silver metal.....


Thanks for reading!

bod

Justbod Team


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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Brentford: an example of early British Celtic Art


Brentford an example of Early British Celtic Art


Often the term 'Celtic Art' evokes, first and foremost, the intricate and detailed knotwork designs, geometric patterns and entwined zoomorphic shapes derived from the Early Medieval Art of Britain and Ireland, expressed partly in the illuminated manuscripts such as the Book of Kells. In art history this type of artwork is classified as 'insular art.' An earlier form of artwork, that later influenced the Art Nouveau movement, was the La Tene culture, and 'Brentford' is based on an artefact from this beautiful period of artistic achievement.


The motif I worked from decorates a cast bronze Iron Age Chariot fitting, known as the Brentford Horn-cap, dated 100Bc - 50AD and part of the Thomas Layton Collection, now in the Museum of London.

Thomas Layton was an avid antiquarian collector who lived in Brentford, Middlesex between 1826 and 1911. Unfortunately he didn't record the provenance of his finds, many of which were collected from the mudlarks of the Thames, although it is believed that the vast majority of the collection was found locally. Upon his death he left over 20,000 items to the people of Brentford.

The Wandsworth Shield Boss: Source Wikimedia
The Wandsworth Shield Boss:Wikimedia 
 CC by SA 3.0

British bronze mirror, 50 BC - 50 AD, showing the spiral and trumpet decorative theme of the late "Insular" La Tène style : Wikimedia
Late La Tene Style: British bronze mirror Wikimedia PD

The design is a form of British Celtic Art (imaginatively known as 'British Celtic Art Style II) which is classified as deriving from the second of three cultural periods making up the La Tene cultural phase: a continental style known as 'Waldalgesheim,' after a site in Germany. It is also known as 'continuous foliage pattern' where ornament is "typically dominated by continuously moving tendrils of various types, twisting and turning in restless motion across the surface." (Barry Raftery, "La Tene Art.") - a great description!

I love this style of artwork, with its satisfyingly intricate and ornate motifs. As Iron Age 'Celts' had an oral, rather than written, culture, we still known very little about them, and the meanings or original inspiration of their art work, although much is said of it. I have seen this particular design described variously on the internet as 'celtic knotwork,' 'a design incorporating symbolic horses' heads,' and as 'celtic triskeles.' I love the idea of the symbolic horses' heads, particularly considering the importance of horses within the Celtic culture, and as the design formed part of a chariot. If you look in the centre of the design, it is possible that the three 'curls' could have been designed as representative of animal heads, but I am fairly sure that we will never know....

'Brentford' has been hand burnt onto birch wood and mounted into a 16 cm polished oak frame - every stage of the process has been done by me, by hand.

Early British Celtic La Tene Art plaque

Hand burnt celtic viking and anglo saxon designs
Three of our 'Dark and Light' Plaques
It is currently available as one of nine designs in 
our 'Dark and Light' range of hand burnt plaques.


Thanks for reading!

bod

Justbod Team




Early British Celtic La Tene Art plaque



Visit our main website & shop:
 
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Sculptures carvings and artwork www.justbod.co.uk
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