Winwick: History and Antiquities: Part 8

By WILLIAM BEAMONT. Second Edition, 1878


Part 1. Etymology of Winwick.
Part 2. Oswald, King of Northumbria.
Part 3. The Domesday Survey.
Part 4. The Church.
Part 5a. The Rectors of Winwick. 1192 – 1520
Part 5b. The Rectors of Winwick. 1520 – 1610
Part 5c. The Rectors of Winwick. 1610 – 1659
Part 5d. The Rectors of Winwick. 1659 – 1764
Part 5e. The Rectors of Winwick. 1764 – 1866
Part 6. The Winwick Chantries.
Part 7. The Grammar School.
Part 8. Some Winwick Antiquities.
Part 9. Some Winwick Names and Notabilities.
Part 10. Some Funeral Inscriptions in the Church and Churchyard.

Part 11. Bibliography


In the account of Winwick printed by Mr. Calvert he mentions as existing there a tradition that the church occupied the site of a Druidical altar and also of a Pagan temple. The hill on which the church stands, and
Winwick. which may have been raised above its original height by artificial means, seems likely enough to have recommended it as a place of sepulture in a dark age, and that it had been so used we have evidence in the discovery made in 1828, when in digging under the chancel they found at the depth of eight or ten feet below the floor, and buried under a heap of sandstone blocks, varying from one to two feet in size, three human skeletons of a gigantic stature. The skeletons seem to have been laid one upon another, but no remains of coffins were discovered with them.(157) Although made so recently,, no further particulars of this discovery have reached us, which is to be regretted, as it would have been satisfactory to know the measurement of the skeletons, for such objects are apt to appear larger than they are, and also to know whether they lay east or west, or in what other direction, and further whether any relics of any kind were found with them which might have helped to identify the race to which they belonged, and have shown whether the occupants were coeval with the several ancient tumuli existing in Winwick.

Of one of these tumuli situated at Highfield, of which Dr. Kendrick witnessed the opening in 1852, he gives the following account :—

" After throwing out from the centre of the tumulus or mound two feet of artificial covering, consisting chiefly of a sandy loam, the workmen came upon a layer of small boulder stones disposed over a circular space 18 inches in diameter. Underneath these was a depth of 18 inches of sandy loam, resembling the top stratum, and below it was a second layer of boulder stones of the same diameter and disposition as the former. Underneath these again, and lying upon the natural red sandy loam of the surrounding district, was a stratum of black earth six inches in depth, mixed with disintegrated bones and fragments of flint and wood charcoal. The bones and the circumstances under which they were found left little doubt that they were human, but they were in such small fragments asnot to enable anyone to say to what part of the skeleton they had belonged, and no attempt was made to burrow under the adjacent ground to find more. No fragments of pottery were found, but the workmen employed averred that five or six years previously, a large earthen vessel was found inverted over a quantity of adult human bones at a distance of twenty or thirty yards from the centre of the tumulus. The bones were scattered on the surrounding land, but the fragments of the earthen vessel were thrown info a deep ditch on the side of the by-road which skirted the barrow or mound. The tumulus is shown and designated as such on the six-inch ordnance map, about half a mile E. or N.E. of Winwick Church," and is one of those alluded to by Dr. Robson in his paper, which we are about to mention and which was read before the Liverpool Historic Society on their visit to Warrington on 8th March, 1860; and which paper, by the kind permission of the Society, is here reprinted:—

" In the Ordnance Survey, as first published on the inch scale, about half a mile to the east of Winwick Church, we find a couple of tumuli, one on each side of a bye-lane; but in the later and larger map a single tumulus is marked, through the centre of which the road seems to have been cut. The earlier survey gives the more correct representation of the place, as there have certainly been at least two barrows, one in the field on the east, the other in that on the west side of the lane. The latter, which we shall first describe, is on a farm called the ‘ Highfields,’ the ground sloping considerably from the north. The tumulus is about six feet above the level of the lane, and the ground to the west is uneven, forming a sort of bank, while the fence on the south has a perpendicular descent of three feet into the next field. The tumulus itself is not very well defined, as it has long been under cultivation, but it may be 30yds. in diameter, and its summit is distinct enough.

"On trenching this mound in November, 1859, deposits of burned bones were found at some distance from the centre, on the slopes to the east and south. These bones were in small fragments, apparently in distinct heaps, mixed with minute particles of burnt wood, and one or two fragments of brown, thick, ill-burnt and rude pottery turned up, not, however, appearing to have any connection with the bone deposits—the only portion of which, offering any recognizable character, was the head of a thigh bone of a subject 12 or 14 years old. About 6ft. deep in the centre, the red sandstone rock was reached.

"There seems reason for believing that this tumulus may have been disturbed, and that the urns in which the bones had been placed having been broken, the bones were again buried while the broken urns were destroyed; at ieast the two or three pieces found would lead to this conclusion, especially when the later discoveries are taken into consideration.

" Some labourers, working in a field on the other side of the lane 15 years ago, came upon an urn with bones in it, apparently of a similar description.

"This tumulus was removed at the beginning of the present year, and the men in their operations, cutting into some soft black stuff, struck a spade into an urn and broke it into pieces; it seems to have been of large size, and has a feathered pattern scored on the outside, in other respects agreeing with the fragments already described. It contained bones in the same fragmentary state as those found on the west side of the lane, and with them a stone hammer-head and a bronze dart.

" The hammer is small, nicely shaped, the face bevelled off for half-an-inch, and the beak with a reasonable cutting edge. It is quite smooth, and very possibly might be polished, and consists of porphyritic clay stone, with large crystals of felspar. It is 5m. in length, and rather more in its greatest circumference; the diameter of the face, f-in.; and the length of the beak (which has the axe form in the same direction as the handle) is if-in.; the weight is rather more than nine ounces.

" The dart is 4in. long, and i|in. wide at the shoulder. It has the common shape of the spears in early representations, as those on the Column of Trajan.
The part that has been inserted in the shaft seems very weak; it is about an inch in length, and has a hole at the extremity, through which a rivet has been passed, but it may have originally been longer; at present it weighs six drachms.

" As these two objects were placed within the urn, it is evident that the head of the dart must have been removed from its shaft; the handle of the hammer must have also been put aside, the head being broken in the centre with a clean fracture right across, and, what is curious, without either portion receiving any injury or splintering.

" Two questions naturally arise—what is the age of the deposit? To what people did these relics belong? And in reply to the first we may say that in the present state of our knowledge no satisfactory answer can be given; to the second, more decidedly, to the ancestors of the present inhabitants of South Lancashire. But as both of these propositions have been and will be disputed, we shall have to consider briefly the grounds on which they rest.

" With reference to some other stone implements in the Warrington Museum, Mr. Syer Cuming, in an interesting paper given in the Journal of the Archaeological Association for September, 1859, P* 23x> expresses himself thus:—

"’These stone relics give a favourable notion of the skill and patience of the archaic denizens of Lancashire. But with all their skill and patience, they were yet doomed to fall before the advance of another race— a race surpassing them in art and science and mental culture, whose advent to our shores was the advent of civilization—civilization which conquered and subdued the savage tribes of the stone period, and upon the ruins of barbarism erected principalities and kingdoms, whose brazen-equipped hosts breasted the tide of fresh invaders, and rendered the name of Celt, a proud and lofty epithet.’

" It must be confessed that the arrangement of ages of stone, bronze, and iron does not help us in the present case. True, we may imagine the proud and lofty Celt killing the native barbarian, and getting his little stone hammer, which, as the spolia opima of his spear, was buried with his ashes; or we may suppose the barbarian killed the Celt, and the little spear was preserved as the token of his victory. But is it not much more likely that these two articles were really formed at the same period ? Would not as much skill and art be required to form the hammer as the javelin ? And can we suppose that iron was altogether unknown when they were manufactured ?

" We must assume, upon this hypothesis, that the Celts so completely rooted out the barbarians that not a trace of them remains, except these stone implements, while the Saxons so exterminated the Celts as to leave nothing whatever that has any characteristic mark behind them, as bronze remains undoubtedly belong in abundance to the Romans, and we have yet to learn what difference there is between the Roman and Celtic bronzes.

" If we do not wish to be misled by theories, however ingenious, it is highly expedient to believe that the population of any given district is descended from the very earliest inhabitants which history records, and of which any remains exist. Hypothetical national destructions are very shadowy matters indeed. Investigations where there is nothing to investigate must lead to illusions—visions, more or less dreary, in the dream-land of imaginative antiquarianism. The finish of an implement like this hammer-head, its shape or symmetry, much less the material, can in no case lead us to the period when it was formed, or the person who formed it. The spearhead belongs to all ages and all nations ; it is the simplest and commonest form, and the metal of which it is made is the principal material of which such articles were formed for centuries. When metals were scarce, and we have neither iron nor copper in South Lancashire, stone would naturally be made use of for such implements as hammer-heads, but even where brass and iron were well known, it would still in some cases be economical to use what was so ready at hand. In our Museum there is an instrument, like a tailor’s ‘ goose ‘ of very large size, made of stone, with the initials of the owner and the date 1607, used in fulling cloth ; and a stone bat, which has been put down as a war-club of the primeval savage, seems far more likely to have been a mallet for beating hemp, or some such purpose, and may have been used as lately as the tailor’s ‘ goose.’(158)

"The great drawback of these hypothetical periods is, that while they are of little practical use, except for the very secondary one of arranging a museum upon an easily understood but misleading principle, they take away the investigator from the real matter and mode of the enquiry, and, like all such errors, are a hindrance to truth. In some graves are coins which carry a date with them, and in others Roman remains, which belong to the first four centuries of our era. But in tumuli, such as those at Winwick, there is nothing to show whether it was raised six centuries before, or six centuries after, that period; and we want more evidence than the stone hammer to show that the people to whom it belonged were savages, to whom metals were unknown ; and more than the bronze spear-head to prove that it was formed by the Celts, who are assumed to have been equally ignorant of the use of iron—while these last are fancied to have been annihilated by the Saxons who employed that metal. There can, in fact, be no reason why the original barbarian could not have worked copper or iron in his native land, just as the Celt found his copper in his country, wherever that might be, or the iron man his iron.

"In conclusion, I would submit with great deference, another system of classification for antiquities found in England. It would include three great classes:—First, all those remains which offer no marks of Roman art or influence. Second, those where the foreign taste in the design or manipulation can be detected. Third, pure Roman, Greek, Oriental, or other easily distinguished articles, which will be neither numerous nor important.

"It would be especially requisite to form provisional geographical sub-divisions—at first general and extensive, as south and north of the Thames—or the Humber— Cambrian, &c, &c. These would become more definite with increasing knowledge.

" And lastly, a chronological division might be made— of Primaeval, before Julius Caesar; Romanic, to the fifth century; and Mediaeval, after that date ; not, however,, without good evidence that the period to which any object was assigned, rested upon a sufficient basis."

The whole of the relics to which this paper refers are preserved in the Warrington Museum.

Mr. Syer Cuming’s remarks on the relics alluded to by Dr. Robson will be found in the Journal of the Archaeological Association for March, 1858, p. 91.

A writer in the Archaeologica Cambrensis (Mr. Boyd Dawkins) thinks it probable, and his opinion seems supported by sufficient authority, that South Lancashire became part of the kingdom of Northumbria after iEthel-frith had subdued the Brit. Welsh and broken their power by taking and destroying Chester between the years 605 and 607.(159) And it would seem more than probable that the Winwick discoveries under the church and in the tumuli belonged to those Brit. Welsh or Celts to whom Mr. Dawkins refers. But the churchyard of Winwick has yielded another relic to the antiquaries.

In digging there a few years ago there was found the mediaeval relic described in the following paper of Mr. Syer Cuming :

"A paper on mediaeval vessels in the form of equestrian knights, read at a former meeting, has been the means of bringing to light another example of these curious objects, whose rarity is so great that we hail any addition to our meagre stock with satisfaction. The specimen now to be described was discovered in the yard of Winwick church, near Warrington, Lancashire, about the year 1840, and is the property of the Warrington Museum, from which institution it has been obtained for exhibition by our associate Dr. Kendrick. This vessel, like all the earlier examples of its class, is of terra-cotta. It is unfortunately much fractured, and a considerable portion lost, yet enough remains to indicate that it represents a knight seated upon a charger, armed at all points for tilt or tourney; but the workmanship is so exceedingly barbarous that little can be made out beyond the general contour. The knight appears to wear a cylindrical helmet ; but as the vessel was filled with liquid through the head of the rider, it may only be the rim which received a conic stopple representing the Norman Heaume ; and what favours this idea is, that the knight’s nose seems to have a bar before it like that of the nasal helmets on the Bayeux tapestry. The eyes are hollow circlets, which Dr. Kendrick suggests may have once been set with glass. The left arm, which probably held a shield, is broken away, but the right couches a stout lance, as it in full charge. The left heel presents a slight trace of a pryck spur; the saddle rises up rather high both before and behind the rider, in Asiatic manner; and the breast of the horse is protected by a Piciere of mailed armour, i.e., armour composed of lozenge-shaped plates, like the chausses of the knight on the specimen exhumed in Leadenhall-street. Representations of horses equipped in armour of the early period of this specimen are of great scarcity; but the fact that they had defences is manifest from the account of the battle of Hastings given by Robert Wace, who describes the steed of Fitz Osborn as ‘all covered with iron.’ The head of the horse (which, as in the Lewes specimen, constituted the spout of the vessel) is broken off, so as to exhibit the canal in the neck, through which the liquid flowed. From the shoulder of the knight springs a broad handle, which rests on the crupper of the horse, the upper side of which is decorated with long wedge-shaped indentations, much like those on the Lewes vessel. The details of the figure are so indistinct, that were it not for the help derived from other examples of a similar description there would be much difficulty in determining its true epoch. In my opinion, there can be little doubt but that it is a production of the early part of the twelfth century ; and there seems reason to believe that it is of native manufacture. Dr. Kendrick states, that on showing it to a master potter, he expressed himself as certain that the material of which it is formed is the common fire-clay found at Sutton, near St. Helens, about eight miles from Warrington. The material is of firm texture, of a reddish hue, and overspread in great part with a lead glaze of a light yellowish-green colour, differing much from that in the Leadenhall-street specimen. Dr. Kendrick supports its claim to home manufacture by the exhibition of the handle, apparently of a similar vessel, which he found in his own garden, and which the potter before mentioned is confident is formed of Sutton fire-clay, covered with salt glaze. Upon the question as to where the Winwick specimen was wrought, I do not feel competent to decide. All I can say is, that the few terra-cotta vessels of this class which have come under my notice are of better execution, and display a far more masterly and careful manipulation. It is therefore not impossible that those of superior finish are of continental origin, and that the one before us is a barbaric type of native fabric."

(157) Hist. Lanc, iii. 625.
(158) The learned author of the paper, in throwing a doubt upon the antiquity of this stone club, seems to be entirely in error. It is wrought of clink stone or hone slate, a material not known within a great distance from the place where it was found. Similar clubs are to be seen in the museums of the curious and are allowed to be British.
(159) Nov. 15, 4th series, p. 236.




Transcribed by Steven Dowd from the original book which he owns, Originally publication is from 1878, this text version and layout, edits and errors is © 2008 Steven Dowd, for use at the Newton-le-willows website