When we woke early yesterday it was already hot and our brick house was the proverbial oven with the unpleasant addition of a few flies who continued to mock the ugly dangling sticky traps we hung the day before. I’d just started working on Dancing the Maypole when the Goblin came in to inform me he had the urge for one of his favorite burghers in Solihul (about twenty or so miles north of Stratford Upon Avon). My characters were left mid sentence for an air-conditioned ride. Having reached our destination, while we waited for our food I casually mentioned that since we’d come all that way for a burgher, would the Goblin feel up to driving me somewhere I could take pictures? (He’s been unwell so I didn’t want to pressure him.) He said he’d manage a detour home so I was quite happy to traipse around in the heat on a full stomach looking for a casual sun-hat for the Goblin. The only one he liked was £40. (Who said you can’t spin straw into gold?) He decided not to get it and I sighed in relief as I didn’t like it and we were soon back in the car. When he took the turning South to Warwick and Stratford Upon Avon my first thought was, ‘Warwick!’ As we approached the turning to Warwick I said, “Ooh Warwick! I’d love to go there…I read about in my Medieval book they have some medieval effigies…” I don’t think he heard me. When the Goblin drives…he drives!
He turned off for Stratton Upon Avon. I was disappointed, but I hadn’t yet visited the church where Shakespeare’s buried so I knew I’d find something to photograph and I’d enjoy it, but it wasn’t meant to be. We entered the city through some portal into an alternative dimension where Shakespeare (and decent architecture) never happened to that spot on the Avon river. We drove in horrified circles getting more claustrophobic and dehydrated. When we saw a sign directing weary travelers back to Warwick I shouted (the Goblin’s hard of hearing), “Let’s go to Warwick!” I’m surprised the tires didn’t make a loud screech as he turned right at the round-about and floored it away from the depressing vision behind us.
We drove into Warwick past cute Elizabethan wood frame houses (you can’t see the Castle from the road even though its quite close) and followed the sign to a car park on a street which (even though around the corner from the newly refurbished bus station) looked like a deserted film set for 1967. If the Goblin hadn’t been growling for water I’d have spent ten minutes taking pictures of the car park; it was bizarre! Having watered the Goblin, we set off for this church with the medieval effigies. It was then the Goblin asked, “Which church is it?” It hadn’t occurred to me there would be more than one. “I don’t know…it’s medieval.” The town is on a weird hill that makes it hard to see the church spires from the shopping precinct. Reaching a corner, there were suddenly two possible churches that looked old. Then I saw a sign that said something about a Beauchamp. “That sounds familiar, ” I said. “It must be that one!” I hoped it was because I could see the Goblin was flagging in the heat and if I was wrong he wouldn’t be in the mood to do any church-hopping.
Entry was free…Hallelujah!…and there was a local choir rehearsing for a concert that night. We waited ’till they looked like they were going to pause before heading past them towards the back of the left side of the main part of church to see if we were in the right church (I didn’t bother reading the laminated notes the lady handed me because that would have been too easy). I noticed the entrance to the crypt, but I was going to skip it because the Goblin was already giving me the ‘I know I’m going to die of old age before you want to leave this cursed place’ look. He was the one who suggested a look in the crypt so I darted down the stairs and waited for him to follow. The first thing you see is a pair of large brown doors to the left with what looks like two grills and a big key hole. No handle.
There was a piece of paper attached to it noting it was a current Grenville family crypt. It made me wonder if the weird grills on the doors were just in case the inmates found themselves undead and with that morbid thought, followed the Goblin who’d gone around the corner.
Stopping, down at the end of a row of pillars under a small window was a large torn British flag in a glass frame.
Why would someone go to all that trouble to frame a flag and then sling it into a crypt? It wasn’t being displayed, it was leaning against the wall clearly awaiting a trip to a worthy attic for its final resting place. I walked past the big fat pillars to have a closer look and found it had flown on a number of WW(can’t remember which one) ships. But by then the sad flag had become a large picture of a pile of…junk!
There was what looked like an interesting old chair under a large pile of broken bits of rubbish and next to it some large wooden thing that looked like a tricycle from The Flintstones. I walked right by it.
It was the Goblin who read the badly framed placard (which I didn’t even see) and called out, “It’s a medieval dunking stool!” I spun round and hurried back to stare at the snubbed contraption in awe. It was missing the long board (the seesaw bit) that would have had a chair (the one under the pile of rubbish?) attached so that women charged with being nags and scolds could be strapped in, wheeled around the town and then dunked in the nearest pond, but it was a real dunking stool and I could touch it. It’s a good thing I was born in the 20th century because I’d have been dunked! I’m no nag or scold, really, but I was born questioning authority and I ask an interminable number of irritating questions like, ‘Why is a man who nags not a nag?’ Gasp! “Dunk that woman!”
Who would have thought to find the ancient remains of a dunking stool in a church crypt? Apparently the dunking stool (as a form of community punishment) goes back to Anglo Saxon times when it was used to deter Brewers and Bakers from thinning their respective products. This particular dunking stool had been gathering dust in the crypt for 200 years; since the early 1800’s! I’ve never thought of the Regency population dunking each other in the nearest duck pond, but clearly some old fashioned souls thought it a useful tool for keeping communal harmony. Apparently it wasn’t just nags and scolds who were strapped in the chair; quarrelsome married couples also found themselves being cooled off in the duck pond. I can’t imagine it did much good. If someone strapped me in a chair, carted me around the town and then treated me like a bag of smelly linen I’d be so mad I’d do something stupid in retaliation. I have ended up in gaol (jail) where I’d have soon prayed they’d dunk me again, if only to wash away the stench.
The Goblin headed for the stairs and I resisted the impulse to neatly stack the pile of junk and followed. Past the wooden choir (originally spelled quire – why didn’t they keep it?) I could see I was in the right church because there ahead of me in front of the altar was the dual alabaster effigies of Thomas Beauchamp I (1313-1369) and his wife Katherine Mortimer who also lived from about 1313-1369.
She died three months before her husband. She was at home in England. He died of the plague at the Siege of Calais. It’s a lovely effigy; they’re portrayed holding hands. I couldn’t help wondering if they’d actually loved each other or if this gesture of affection was the sculptor’s touch.
I looked them up tonight; they were married when they were 5 by Papal dispensation. When Thomas’ father died the boy became the legal ward of Roger Mortimer (the man who ordered Edward II to be murdered with a hot poker). Thomas and Katherine not only grew up together, but grew up together married and then had fifteen children; five sons and ten daughters. I’ve no idea if they loved each other, but being a romantic I shall assume they did and that Katherine’s father, the evil Roger Mortimer (who was also the Queens lover) accidentally did something good before he was hung drawn and quartered by Edward III. I bet Roger was wishing he was getting a dunking in the duck pond that day!
There were lots of things to take pictures of. The church, the Collegiate Church of St Mary, was first built in 1123, but only the crypt remains of the original church. Thankfully, the Chapel of our Lady (the Beauchamp Chapel) wasn’t damaged in the Great Fire of Warwick of 1694, though there was extensive damage in other parts of the building. I could have stayed hours taking photos, but every time the Goblin caught my eye he’d affect the look of a dying man. I’ll have to see if I can persuade him to return, if only to see if the pile of junk in the crypt.