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The Heritage Lottery Fund has approved a development grant of £87,400 for the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum for the creation of a new gallery detailing the history and archaeology of Salisbury and the surrounding area.
“The gallery plans make up the first phase of a ten year master plan to redevelop the King’s House. The central theme of the master plan is to recast the museum as a discovery museum, aimed at all levels of learning. The new gallery will tell the story of Salisbury and the surrounding area from prehistoric times to the Norman Conquest, showing why Salisbury has a unique place in the region’s and nation’s history.
“The gallery will contain new archaeological discoveries from the Stonehenge landscape. It will also incorporate activities and learning programmes for all levels of learning, from pre-school children up to post-graduate students, and families who want to learn in an informal and enjoyable way.”
Guest article by Albert Resonox
Steyning in West Sussex is quite unique in having its most famous Saxon son’s legends thrive despite Norman attempts to obliterate his memory.
Such was, and indeed is, his popularity that he has been accredited with several “miraculous” legends, usually incurring the wrath of god on his fellow men and even The Devil!
The name Steyning is derived from the Saxon word Stenningas, which loosely translates as “The People of the Stone(s)” or “Village In The Stony Ground” or again as “The Stone Crossing of the Stream”. Whichever is the true meaning, there is one carved stone in the porch of St. Andrew’s Church (formerly St. Cuthman’s) which we will mention more of later. There is another stone, originally a Saxon grave slab in the church porch which is rumoured to be the gravestone of Alfred the Great’s father, Ethelwulf of Wessex, who was buried in the churchyard before his remains were transferred to a royal burial in Winchester. However the area has long been surrounded by quarries, possibly in use since pre-Roman days, which might cast light on the name given by the Saxons. However the area was also a direct route to the sea (long since reclaimed) and there existed a port which was named for St. Cuthman, so any tributary stream would have a ford at its shallowest point. The church was rededicated to St. Andrew after the Norman conquest, to rid the area of a local hero (and Saxon to boot) but failed to eradicate his memory.
Although there are signs of continuous habitation in the area since mesolithic times (if not earlier), it would appear that the Romans did not make use of this natural harbour as much as would be expected, preferring the harbours of the likes of Chichester where perhaps they were made more welcome or at least where they met less resistance. That said, Romans or at least Romano-Brits did have settlements in and around the area.
St. Cuthman was according to various legends a shepherd from a well-to-do family from Chidham, who since the death of his father had fallen on hard times and had also to care for his infirm mother. It is also reputed that he kept his sheep within a circle, by the power of prayer, whether this was a stone circle or an imaginary one, we can only surmise, but it is said he rested on a stone in the field to carry out these prayers. Some say that this was actually the site of Fishbourne Palace.
It is claimed that whilst in the course of his sheep-watching and praying that god commanded him to travel east to the last bastion of paganism and erect a church, he would know where by a heavenly sign. However his elderly mother could not be left alone so he had to take her with him. He sold his flock and bought a barrow with which to transport his mother – this barrow had a rope halter which he hooped around his neck.
He proceeded night and day scarce stopping for rest until his halter frayed and snapped, unable to buy any more rope he cut some elder branches with which to fashion a new one. Farmhands in a nearby field on seeing this jeered at his foolishness but he cursed them saying, “Men mock and heaven shall weep!” at which a rainstorm flooded their field and nowhere else and destroyed their crops.
Cuthman carried on his travels wheeling his mother, until his elder-twig halter snapped again, as this happened by a “pagan” mound topped by a stone (this being the stone in the church porch) he took this as the sign where he should erect his church. His mother is lost from here on except as a possibility for the candidate of one of Cuthman’s “miracles”. This stone was only discovered in 1938 when an old set of steps was being lifted and this was one which had been used as a step, yet bigger than the other stones used for the same purpose. Some say that Cuthman used the stone as his original altar-stone to ensure that the local pagans would still come to the church to venerate it and was discarded and replaced by the Normans own altar. Whilst erecting the church Cuthman was struggling to fit the main roof beam when a stranger appeared and assisted him, but first hanging his leathern gloves on a sunbeam, this stranger is given alternatively as either Christ or St. Andrew.
Cuthman fell foul of a local wise-woman (or witch) who objected to his “divine works” and stole his oxen which were grazing on her land, in return he harnessed her two sons and used them as substitutes and when she tried to curse him he rebutted her curse with such power she flew high into the sky and as she fell to earth the devil opened the ground to claim her soul as his own.
The Devil spotted this holy work and decided to dam the area in one night and drown the valley to prevent its conversion from paganism. In his haste to complete the work he tossed mighty mounds of earth to form Cissbury, Chanctonbury, Mount Caburn and Rackham Hill (was this a way early christians had of explaining sites which weren’t god-created?). However the noise created by this task roused Cuthman, and realising what his satanic majesty was about, held a lighted candle behind a sieve, tricking the devil into thinking it was the rising sun and abandoning his task incomplete. Another version has Cuthman knocking roosters of their perches with his crook, causing them to crow again, tricking the devil into thinking it was sun-up. Yet another claims that by the power of Cuthman’s prayers Old Nick was afflicted with such cramps he flew into the air in pain and landed with such force he created what we now know as The Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey, but a rock trapped between his cloven hoof fell en-route and landed in Hove (The Goldstone?). These tales have been variously attributed to St. Dunstan, a fictitious nun called Ursula de Braose (de Braose is the name of the one time lord of nearby Bramber Castle) and an unnamed elderly lady (possibly Cuthman’s own dear mama?).
Local sculptor Penny Reeve carved a statue of St. Cuthman for the millennium and has his feet resting on a copy of the “pagan stone”.