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by Nigel S

OK, this article is mainly about non-prehistoric stuff but my excuse is that it didn’t start that way as I visited the village of Kempsey in Worcestershire to see the ramparts of an Iron Age promontory hill fort,  just west of the church and close to the River Severn. Not spectacular these days but real enough. I chatted to the priest and he made me feel silly by saying some of it might be the “bund”, the very recent flood defences, but I don’t think the bit in the picture is, at least.

Kempsey 2

What caught my eye though was this, adjacent to the churchyard…..

Kempsey saxon 1

It was erected by the locals following the discovery of 42 ancient graves during the construction of the flood defences and it contains the inscription: “Marking the reburial of our Saxon and Mediaeval ancestors 800-1300 BC”. The actual interment was just the other side of the fence, within the churchyard, but the stone was erected outside the fence so that passing ramblers would be able to see it. That strikes me as a great example of a village taking the trouble to mark its past, a past that is still connected to the present in some ways: as the priest pointed out, those who had been re-buried would all have been familiar with this …

Kempsey 4

Not all of Kempsey’s past is cherished though. Some of it is being exploited IMHO.  First (like every village by now probably), Kempsey has been visited by metal detectorists under the unique Bonkers British legal umbrella which says they needn’t tell anyone about 99.98% of the historical finds they come across.  One wonders just how much cultural knowledge of its past that has cost Kempsey bearing in mind that ARCHI UK, the database aimed at metal detectorists, lists 271 archaeological and historical sites within 10 km of the centre of the village!

Second, over on the other side of the village from the church there’s this new estate being developed ….

Kempsey 3

Note the name, Saxon Meadows.  I bet there’s a new estate near you with a similar name. Being a bit of a cynic I read it as:  “We’re probably destroying archaeology but this name shows we really care”! In the event they found a bit of Roman but no Saxon.  Still, it’s the apparent caring that matters – although some gestures of caring in Kempsey are more obviously genuine than others!

 
The Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Essex
 
Though slightly outside the remit of Heritage Action, we thought this feature appropriate, given the time of year and the chequered history of this most ancient and venerable building. The 7th century Chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex, is a simple but sacred place ‘for all faiths and none’.
 
“The Chapel is assumed to be that of “Ythanceaster” (Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica), originally constructed as an Anglo-Celtic Church for the East Saxons in AD 654 by St Cedd, astride the ruins of the abandoned Roman fort of Othona. The current structure was most likely built around 660-662, incorporating the Roman bricks and stones. Cedd travelled south from Lindisfarne to spread Christianity at the behest of Sigeberht the Good, then King of the East Saxons, in 653 and returned the next year having been ordained as a Bishop in order to build this Chapel and probably others too. Following the death of St Cedd in October 664 from plague, the Chapel became part of the Diocese of London.”*
 
Stepping into its cool interior today one is struck by the bare flint walls that tower up to a steeply pitched roof space. At the far end is a simple altar incorporating three stones; one from Lindisfarne on Holy Island, another from the Island of Iona, and the third from Lastingham on the Yorkshire Moors.** Above the altar is a simple painting of The Passion. Look into the corners either side of the altar though and you will see little offerings of stones, petals and mistletoe. Nearby is the Othona Community, “…an open Christian Community, welcoming and involving people of all faiths and none.”***
 
Happy Ēostre from all at Heritage Action.
 

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