Wandering through the ghosts of villages past

As the days grow slightly longer, and with my Welsh Castle Wander in mind, I’m trying to undertake a few 10-or-more mile walks. Of course, if I can make them coincide with some form of medieval theme, I will. I love to wander across the countryside, far from the madding crowd, where you can really feel a connection with the past. There’s something quite magical about actually travelling somewhere on foot: to have a starting point and a destination. After all, that’s how most people got about in the Middle Ages. I find it gives a totally different perspective on an area you’d normally only see from the road, and you can discover so much more about the land and its history. You feel a part of it. And a part of then.

So yesterday the journey of choice was from Fawsley Church in Northamptonshire to my mum’s home near Banbury. It took in two deserted medieval villages and their solitary churches, and some lovely views.

The Church of St Mary stands alone in an elevated position on the Fawsley Estate, but it was once the centre of a bustling village, lost over time to sheep farming, landscaping and the building of the nearby Tudor manor, now a country hotel. Fawsley seems to have been a thriving community in 13th Century, as is shown by Henry III granting it a Market Charter in 1244, but its fortunes declined after the arrival of the powerful Knightley family in 1316. They were great sheep farmers, so they enclosed the lands and the subsequent depopulation of the village became such that by 1524 only 7 people were listed as paying subsidy to Henry VIII. It made the Knightleys pretty unpopular.

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The effigies of Sir Richard Knightley and his wife on their splendid alabaster tomb

Inside the church are some interesting finds. A superb, free-standing alabaster tomb of Sir Richard Knightley, who fought with the Lancastrians at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 and lived on until well into Henry VIII’s reign, stands by the south aisle, and behind this is the high-sided Knightley pew, designed to hide the family from the rest of the congregation. However, its position meant that they couldn’t see what the priest was doing at the altar, so they had a ‘squint’ (a big square hole!) put into the south wall of the chancel so they could see what was going on.

Away across fields and through the odd spinney, we came to another deserted medieval village, Church Charwelton. This seems to have followed a similar story to Fawsley, with the Andrews family keeping 1200 animals by 1539. There remains a spectral presence in the landscape here, beside the lonely church, with the tell-tale ‘lumps and bumps’ of the former settlement’s earthworks still prominent. It’s quite haunting to wander in the footsteps of these ancient villagers, and I could almost hear their voices.

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Remnants in the earth of the deserted Charwelton with its church looking on

Onwards through ever quiet rolling landscape, and soon it was time for a welcome stop at a pub in the very un-deserted village of Eydon. I always seem to gain a massive energy boost if I stop half way through a long walk for a huge glass of wine! With that gorgeous wood burning stove I could have happily settled down there for the rest of the afternoon, but there was a fair distance still to go.

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Time to refuel

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The last leg

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Crossing a babbling stream

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It wasn’t their fault the villagers were turfed off the land…

The remainder of the walk took us across a landscape that soon, sadly, will be less peaceful and undisturbed when it falls victim to HS2, which will cut straight through this green and pleasant land. The madness of modernity strikes again. But for now, it’s a tonic to stroll across green fields and running streams, before the last climb uphill to Thorpe Mandeville and the promise of hot tea and my mum’s warm cheese scones.

 

52 thoughts on “Wandering through the ghosts of villages past

  1. When I read your writing I always feel as if I’m sitting with you, all comfy and toasty by a warming fire, and listening to someone who lived back in those great times telling me one of those great stories that that’s been passed down through generations. It’s lovely! Like you said, a tonic. And I think it’s such a nice, romantic idea to take walks like this and experience the area (as much as you can) from the perspective of the times. I know that I’m supposed to celebrate modernity as a sign of the constant continuation of life, but it is a shame that it means the loss of the charms that places like these used to hold. Thank you so much for sharing these places and for doing so in a way that brings back some of that charm!

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    • Thanks Lindsay for such very kind comments. If that’s how you feel when you read my posts, I’m over the moon because that’s how I wanted people to feel – especially the warming fire bit! I’m glad you enjoyed reading about our wander through some lost medieval villages, and if I can bring back some of the magic through my writing then I’m achieving what I set out to do. Thanks so much for reading, and for your kind words – it means a lot. 🙂

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  2. You can count yourself exceedingly successful! Visiting your site is truly like stepping back into time. I love to come here with a cup of tea and when I have good time to spend. I thank you for that! And I meant to mention: I loved the story of Knightley, his pew, and his peep hole. I think it’s funny and such neat insight into the lives of people back then. I think history can sometimes feel a bit stodgy when it fails to include those personal little bits! It’s one of the great things about your writing! You tell the stories of history in such a way that allows you to see the people as people. It’s very cool! I hope you have a chance to get out and do some wandering this weekend!!!

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  3. Ah walking – my favourite way of getting around but then comes trains which is another story. That glass of wine and and the fire look so tempting…. glad you were able to pull yourself away from it…. perhaps you knew the scones were in the oven!

    Liked by 1 person

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