thinking about archaeology

Archive for August, 2015

Miss Maurice’s organ case

Great Chalfield Manor

We went to Great Chalfield Manor, Wiltshire, the other day, parts of which stood in for Thomas Cromwell’s home in the BBC Wolf Hall series. The grounds are very pleasant (complete with a kingfisher on the moat). The house is a medieval manor largely rebuilt by Thomas Tropnell (1405–88), not an inappropriate setting for the TV series. But what really stood out was the panelled organ case in the little church of All Saints. It’s quite beautiful, with painted religious scenes, half medieval chapel and half Victorian fairground.

It was apparently made early in the 20th century for an organ installed by the Reverend Edward Kingston (rector 1878–1900). A card says the case was made when the church was restored 1910–14 to a design by Mr Biddulph Pritchard, and was painted by Miss Maurice.

Wikipedia is wonderfully dismissive, saying simply, “The organ case is richly decorated and looks medieval but is modern.” I wanted to know more. Who were Mr Biddulph Pritchard and Miss Maurice?

To give him his full name, Arnold Theophilus Biddulph Pinchard (1859–1934) was secretary of the English Church Union and author of, among other tracts, Judgment unto Truth: A Course of Six Sermons, The Pope & the Conscience of Christendom, and the memorable Belts & Buckles in Birmingham.

Photo National Trust

Photo National Trust

There is a depiction of the case in the manor’s collection, which the National Trust has put online (above). The drawing is described there as one of a box of 169 drawings and plans of Great Chalfield Manor by Sir Harold Brakspear, c 1905–15. Brakspear (1870–1934) was a local architect and antiquarian who substantially but sensitively restored and extended the house for its owner, Robert Fuller.

Biddulph Pinchard restored the church itself. Most of the organ case’s scenes are based on paintings on a tremendous late 15th century rood screen in Ranworth church, Norfolk.

The 12 apostles are on the sides. Miss Maurice has not slavishly copied them and they are not ordered the same, but you can match them all.

Photo Gary Troughton

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

All Saints church, north top

All Saints church, north top

All Saints church, north base

All Saints church, north base

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

Ranworth church: Photo Gary Troughton

All Saints church, south top

All Saints church, south top

All Saints church, south base

All Saints church, south base

On the front are the three Magi presenting to Mary, Jesus and Joseph, above St George about to behead his dragon and the Archangel Michael doing the same to a dragonesque Satan. The last two again are based on scenes at Ranworth.


Ranworth church, Photos Simon Knott

Ranworth church, Photos Simon Knott

And on the sides, between each group of apostles, are little vignetted scenes.

Chalfield organ N side

In one of these you can a man, said to be St James, being beheaded in front of the manor house, with the west end of the church at the left. On the front Caspar gives the whole church to Jesus in gold, as seen from the north:

church & manor

It’s all very lovely and moving. But who was the talented Miss Maurice?

Photo Michael Garlick, Wikimedia

Photo Michael Garlick, Wikimedia

Here come the Celts!

The cover of the new British Archaeology features a small part of one of the most extraordinary prehistoric treasures from Europe, still in the ground in Norfolk during excavation in the early 1990s. Inside, we hear about new forensic work conducted on the gold and silver jewellery from Snettisham, Norfolk. The Celtic theme looks forward to a major exhibition featuring Celtic arts opening in London in September and in Edinburgh next year.

The picture above (The Riders of the Sidhe) is by John Duncan (1866–1945), a populist Celtic Revival artist with echoes of Richard Dadd (apparently he could hearing fairy music when he painted). He was born in Dundee; the painting will be loaned to the exhibitions from Dundee’s Art Galleries and Museums.

Some archaeologists will no doubt carp about the use of the word “Celt” in the British Museum’s “Celts: art and identity”, which moves to the National Museum of Scotland next March under the simple title of “Celts”. I’m looking forward to seeing the show, and will write about my impressions here (it opens on September 25). In the meantime, the first of three features in the new magazine offers an early insight: four of the people behind the exhibitions introduce their controversial idea of what Celtic arts mean. I think we may be leaving behind the old debates about whether or not there ever were such people as Celts, and taking a wider, more interesting view of the world. A good thing too. Continuing the new Celts theme, a third feature considers fine metal artefacts that were taken home from the British Isles by Norwegian Vikings.

It’s not all Celts, of course. Among other things British Archaeology celebrates the 200th anniversary of a guidebook to one of the country’s best preserved Roman villas – Bignor – and an Anglo-Saxon village – West Stow – that has been brought back to life.

The CITiZAN project (they insisted I write it like that) hopes to save coastal heritage around England with a new form of rescue archaeology. In the south, the former English Heritage funded two projects that showed well preserved mesolithic sites are not as rare as archaeologists had assumed.

We hear about salmon fishing on the Dee – thousand of years ago, when the Cairngorms were covered in permanent snow fields. In Wiltshire archaeologists are back at the Marden henge, and an unusual Roman farmstead seems to have stopped a major commercial development – while Historic England excavates another Roman farmstead elsewhere in the county.

With the usual news, reviews and comment, and reports from the Council for British Archaeology – and an interview with artist Dexter Dalwood, currently showing in Tate Britain’s exhibition about history painting – this is an outstanding issue that reflects the variety of archaeology in modern Britain.

A short blog about axe blades carved onto Stonehenge megaliths

After Hugo Anderson-Whymark commented that the 1969 photo in my last blog showed axe blades picked up in the English Heritage laser study (and not “new”, as I’d suggested), I had a closer look. I was expecting him to be right. Now I’m not so sure.

Here is the result of comparing a few images. At the top, I’ve pasted all the carvings described by Abbott & Anderson Whymark (2012) on stones 5, 4 and 3 onto one of my photos. The colours show axes described before 2003 (red) and additional ones they found in 2012 (green) (the 2003 date stems from an article by Tom Goskar and colleagues in British Archaeology Nov 2003/73, in which they found a few new carvings in a trial laser study). I located the carvings by matching the stones’ edges, which at this scale is quite accurate. It creates an impressive effect – bearing in mind the possibility that the carvings may originally have been painted.

The key to matching the 1969 photo is a fine bit of graffiti on stone 4, carved in 1866 by one H Bridger from Chichester, West Sussex. You can see it on the left of this photo from Atkinson’s book (1956):


Here is the graffiti in one of my photos (lower left of centre):

I’ve marked three changes in angle on the right edge of the stone, which I’ve also marked on the 1969 photo below:

axes-1969 rings

And finally the lower part of stone 4 with all the carvings:

stone 4

You can’t see it in the photo, so I’ve marked the approximate site of Bridger’s graffiti (the lichen patterns help in all this). So are those axes in the 1969 photo also in the 2012 laser plan? They could, and this would make sense, be the two larger ones at the top recorded before 2003. But are they in the right place? The left photo below is looking straight at the stone, the right looking up from below. The clarity of the carvings in the 1969 photo would suggest the laser study would hardly have missed them. I do feel, however, that a higher resolution survey would be useful.

stone 4 R edge

To close, here’s a photo of the three blades on stone 3 showing very clearly in TV floods at night in 2000:

stone 3 axes