Angles, Danes and Norse in the District of Huddersfield (1929) - Chapter 12

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Angles, Danes and Norse in the District of Huddersfield (1929) by W.G. Collingwood (2nd edition)

  • Preface (page 3)
  • Chapter 1 : The Anglian Occupation of Yorkshire (page 7)
  • Chapter 2 : British Loidis and Elmet (page 9)
  • Chapter 3 : The Anglian and British Map of the Huddersfield District (page 13)
  • Chapter 4 : The Anglian Abbeys (page 17)
  • Chapter 5 : Anglian Monuments (page 19)
  • Chapter 6 : Dewsbury (page 24)
  • Chapter 7 : Thornhill (page 33)
  • Chapter 8 : Walton and Rastrick Cross-bases (page 37)
  • Chapter 9 : Kirkburton and Kirkheaton — the Danish Settlers (page 40)
  • Chapter 10 : High Hoyland and the Norse Settlers (page 46)
  • Chapter 11 : Domesday Book an the Norman Conquest (page 50)
  • Chapter 12 : Mirfield, Cawthrone, Penistone and Skelmanthorpe (page 55)
  • Summary (page 60)
  • Bibliography (page 61)

MIRFIELD, CAWTHORNE, PENISTONE AND SKELMANTHORPE

Of the early Norman period there are a few monuments which must be added. At Mirfield, near the site of a motehill, possibly Ilbert de Lacy’s, for he was the Norman owner in 1086, and perhaps originally at a chapel built on the estate after that date, there is a rude and curious headstone of the kind which came in to use when high crosses went out of fashion. It is now on a pedestal at the east end of Mirfield church. The ornament is a survival of Anglo-Danish motives not yet Normanised. In the plait of a, the late Anglian pattern is coarsely reproduced; in b the basket-plait of the tenth century has been further debased into a sort of gridiron. The beast of c and the clumsy figure with a cross (d) recall, though with a difference, animals on cross-shafts of an earlier period at Ilkley and Sheffield, and figures on crosses of the eighth and ninth centuries. But this headstone is highly interesting as showing the continuance of the old traditions hereabouts, down to the end of the eleventh century, and it may be noted that “three Englishmen” farmed Mirfield in 1086 as tenants.

A still further debasement of the old design is shown by the stones at Cawthorne, three of which have been set up in the churchyard, west of the church, forming a tall cross. Another crosshead is built into the east wall of the chantry chapel, outside. These two crossheads are almost of Anglian form, but the ornament they bear and the patches of pattern on the shaft are like nothing earlier than the eleventh century. There is some difficulty understanding the grotesque figure or figures on the side g, for its upper part is lost. On a stone built into the wall on the north side of the chancel-arch in Penistone church there is another piece of the same kind of pattern. Like the rude, incised forms on shafts at Ecclesfield church and other places in the Don Valley, it seems to be a late attempt to give the effect of plait-work without the trouble of drawing it, at a time when the old art was almost forgotten. In 1086 there was a priest and a church at Cawthorne, and the manor was still held by its old English or Anglian owner, Alric.

In Cawthorne Church, at the east end, is a square font, brought from Cannon Hall; and a similar font, said to have come from High Hoyland, is at Skelmanthorpe, at the west end of the church. The latter is represented in the Tolson Museum by a cast made by Mr. Lockwood, and we own to Mr. C. Mosley the photographs here produced. Though the Skelmanthorpe font has not the dragons and crosses of the Cawthorne font, it shows a curious pair of heads taking the place of flowers on the tree-scrolls of two panels; and on two sides are intersected arcades. This feature, as Mr. John Bilson tells me, appear first in Northern England on a capital at Lastingham of about 1073, and in architecture at Durham, 1093; so that the date of these two fonts must be at the end of the eleventh century at earliest. They seem to belong to the generation following the Norman Conquest, when life hereabouts was disturbed from its former channel of comparatively easy, if rough, tradition and diverted into new courses under the rule of the Normans. But this rudeness shows that the carvers must have worked before the benefits of the new rule had been left. Not the least of these benefits was the building of great churches and abbeys, which in the twelfth century brought the culture of the South into Yorkshire.

From the Norman Conquest onwards we have historical records of our district; any such – if they ever existed for the period we have been considering – were no doubt destroyed in the Danish invasion and in subsequent disasters, down to the Conquerer’s devastation. Surprising finds are made, now and then, of fresh documents throwing light upon dark periods; but it is hardly likely that much will be discovered for a part of the country which was then so rough and so far out of the way of busier centers. Scholars are gradually reconstructing Roman Britain from the remains found by excavation, and we are obliged to use the same method for the Anglian and Danish periods in south-west Yorkshire. This makes our ancient stones especially valuable.

It is pretty certain that the soil of our churchyards and the walls of old buildings contain still more relics, as important as those we possess. Anyone who takes an interest can join in keeping watch for their appearance, when old fabrics are pulled down or when the ground is freshly opened. Great thanks are due to all who have noted and preserved the fragments so recovered, most of which, at first sight, have been almost formless and without obvious charm or worth. Nevertheless they contribute in a wonderful degree to the story of our own origins. They tell us, as we reflect upon them, about the character of our ancestors, their thought and art, how they looked at life and how they faced death. And we too, with all our progress, are still the heirs of those ages. Our best gifts are of their giving – the industry and courage of the race, its respect for truth, its love of beauty, and its hope for immortality.