On a recent visit to Pickering in North Yorkshire, Hubcap and I stumbled upon a real treasure: the parish church of St Peter & St Paul (left), which contains one of the most complete sets of medieval wall-paintings in Britain.
The religious site dates back 900 years, although all that remains of the earliest church is a carved cross shaft and the stone font (right). The Saxon church was rebuilt in the 12th century, with further additions and enlargements in the 14th and 15th centuries. The famous frescoes were commissioned and executed while the Wars of the Roses were raging, which made them particularly interesting to us; then only 100 years later they were covered over with a thick coat of plaster during the Protestant Reformation. Ironically, this preserved them, and in 1876, the paintings were fully exposed and restored to their former glory.
Like all figurative wall-paintings these were intended as an aid to worship for the congregation, most of whom would not have understood the Latin Mass. They illustrate a number of popular themes and Bible stories: the north wall opposite the entrance shows St George slaying the dragon, (below left), St Christopher carrying the Christ Child, St John the Baptist slain by Salome, the coronation of the Virgin Mary, and the martyrdoms of St Edmund (Christian king of East Anglia in the 850’s) and St Thomas Becket (below right). We were particularly excited by the St Edmund scene, partly because the costumes were so familiar to us as Wars of the Roses re-enactors, and partly because it shows exactly how a medieval archer (in the foreground wearing the red doublet) strung a heavy war-bow: bracing it behind his right heel, bending it with his left hand and slipping the string on with his right. The south wall shows the story of St Catherine of Alexandria, the seven Corporal Acts of Mercy, the Virgin Mary, the passion and crucifixion of Christ, the descent into Hell featuring a wonderful red dragon with the damned in its jaws (below centre) and Christ’s resurrection. Altogether they’re truly remarkable images and well worth a trip to Pickering in their own right - although there are lots of other features of interest in the church, and plenty to see and do around the town itself. Highly recommended!
Good news on the battlefield protection front! Since 2009, Towton Battlefield Society has been campaigning for an extension of the battlefield boundary to encompass areas in and around the villages of Towton and Saxton associated with the historic conflict that took place on Palm Sunday 1461. Regular readers of this page will be aware of the various threats this precious landscape has faced over the years, and may even have joined the Society’s fight to protect it by opposing planning applications and lobbying local councillors and MPs - so you'll be pleased to learn that Towton's
entry on the Battlefields Register has now been substantially extended (above right) to include key sites like Towton Hall (above left) in the area of the Lancastrian camp on the fateful day.
The Register was established to increase awareness of battlefields, to encourage their protection and conservation, and to promote better understanding of their significance; it is recognised as a material consideration in planning decisions, obliging local authorities to take the area’s special historic interest into account whenever they receive planning applications which would impact on the battlefield. This is the first time since the Register’s creation that a battlefield boundary has been altered so significantly, which feels like a nice reflection of Towton’s significance in British history; and the extended boundary now means that a much larger part of this unique battlefield landscape will be protected for future generations.
I feel very grateful to everyone who has helped to bring this about, including many friends from the medieval re-enactment community, Richard III Society and other local heritage groups. If you’d like to see what we’ve collectively achieved, the Battlefields Register entry for Towton, together with the updated map, has now been published on the National Heritage List for England; it can also be accessed via the TBS website. Result!
If you're looking for something fun and interesting to do in the Wakefield area on Saturday 1st July, why not join the Frei Compagnie at the Pennine Camphill Community Summer Fair? It will take place on the Community site on Wood Lane, Chapelthorpe WF4 3JL from 1 pm - 4 pm, admission is free, it's all to support a good cause - and it should be a great day out for people of all ages.
This year is a special occasion - the Community's 40th birthday - and there will be plenty to see and do: a grand opening by the Mayor of Wakefield; music and refreshments on the lawn in front of the magnificent Boyne Hill House (left), a mansion built c. 1903 and now used as accommodation for students; stalls selling fresh produce grown on the Community farm and craftworks made by the students (below left); craft workshops, Morris dancing and much more - including our living history camp!
Yes, the Frei Compagnie will be offering our usual displays of medieval costume, crafts and foodstuffs, plus archery and combat demonstrations, a childrens' bill-drill and have-a-go archery (£1 for 3 arrows); and I'm particularly looking forward to this event because it will be the first outing for our new tent, a square pavilion with plenty of room to set out the Towton Battlefield Society information and merchandise stall.
So do pop in and see us if you're in the area. As the photographs show, the site is well worth a visit in its own right to see the beautiful grounds, rare breed farm animals and rich, diverse architecture - and all the activities on offer should make for a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon. So now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for good weather!