After an absence of three months we were pleased to be able to meet up for our usual summer visits. This year some of us visited Chester Cathedral library for a talk on the Dead Sea Scrolls which we all found very instructive. Our August trip was to Tutbury Priory and Castle where we met up with our fellow Staffordians from South Staffs Group. An enjoyable day was had by all.
A TALK ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
When it comes to exploring 15th century history, we are happy to take a broad and eclectic approach. In this case very broad and eclectic, but the offer of a talk on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Professor George Brooke, one of only two British members of the international team working on the scrolls, was too good to pass up. The talk took place in Chester Cathedral library.
The story of the chance survival and discovery of the scrolls is as unlikely and amazing as the discovery of the remains of King Richard. Sometime in 1946-7 three young Bedouins were herding goats between what is known as the Salt Sea and the cliffs leading up into the Judaean wilderness. A goat strayed and one of the boys scrambled up into the cliffs after it, into the entrance of one of the many caves studding the cliff face. He threw a stone into the cave and heard something break. Looking inside, he found several large jars. There were bundles inside the jars, containing long strips of leather with strange writing on them. Some weeks later the nomadic herdsmen arrived at the market town of Bethlehem, where they offered their find to "Kando", a cobbler they knew: perhaps he could use the leather. Kando however, was sufficiently curious about the writing to take them to St. Marks monastery (Syrian church). The Metropolitan of the monastery, Mar Samuel, bought them, though he too had no idea what they were and could not read the script.
Politically these were dangerous times in the region, as the British Mandate was coming to an end and the situation was volatile, yet, despite the danger to both sides, contact was made with a Jewish scholar, Eleazar Sukenik who then travelled to Bethlehem in 1947 where he was shown the manuscripts. He recognised the writing and realised their age and value and bought three manuscripts. Mar Samuel retained four. Palestine was divided between Israel and Jordan, and Bethlehem and the Dead Sea were in Jordan, so Samuel turned to the American Schools of Archaeological Research where the scrolls were photographed and identified. On 12th April 1948, the news broke of the amazing discovery of scrolls from the time of Judas Maccabee, Herod, and Jesus of Nazareth.
Since then, expeditions have returned to the region and found more scrolls in other nearby caves. They date from a time of varied religious beliefs and as politically unstable as the times in which they were discovered, the region having been occupied by Assyrians, Persians and Greeks before the coming of the Romans and further subject to rebellions, reprisals and internal conflicts between sects. First century historian Josephus describes four sects of Jews: Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees and a "fourth philosophy". The scrolls were found at Qumran, a town occupied by the Essenes, a group whose way of life may have been a precursor of monasticism. How they came to be there; their interpretation, ownership and significance is still a matter for debate and scholarly examination continues.
Professor Brooke illustrated his fascinating talk with photographs of the region and the scrolls. This was followed by lunch at the 19th century Coach House.
TUTBURY PRIORY AND CASTLE
In August we had the pleasure of meeting up with the South Staffordshire Group at Tutbury. We gathered at the Priory church of St. Mary, where we were made very welcome with tea and coffee. Our hosts were very knowledable and presented a history of the church, which we were then invited to explore.
The church originated in the Benedictine priory established by Henry de Ferrers c. 1080. Nothing survives of this first church but excavations in 1861 revealed the footings of an apse and possibly a north transept. However there are indicatons that the east end may have been square by the later middle ages.The earliest surviving part is the nave, which dates from the 12th century and a second phase of building. This was completed in the 1160s, when it was embellished with a richly carved west front with alabaster decoration. In 1165, William de Ferrers (d. 1190) had the body of his great-grandfather, the original founder, moved to a new tomb on the right of the high altar.
After the dissolution the site was acquired by Sir William Cavendish who proceeded "to pull down most of the church", including the east end, transepts, north aisle and nave clerestory. The west end continued to be used as the parish church and soon after acquired a new south-west tower, presumably to accomodate the bells. The porch was added in the 17th century and altered or repaired in the 18th. The earlier 19th century saw more alterations and repairs. In 1867 the decision was taken to take down the east wall and build a chancel. The architect, G.E.Street, chose to recreate the apse of the original church, the footings of which had been revealed 6 years earlier and proceed with other alterations in the Romanesque style, (rather than the more fashionable Gothic). Sir Oswald Mosley, patron and lay rector paid for the chancel and red alabaster reredos. The work was completed in 1868.
We then explored the church, admiring particularly the 12 century west front, which is unique in that one of the arches is alabaster, a material not usually used on the exterior, perhaps with good reason: it is now suffering from damage caused by acid rain, being down-wind of two power stations. Attempts are being made to preserve it. Another, smaller doorway of the same period, on the south side, is also richly carved, including a boar hunt on the lintel stone. Apparently this is not uncommon in survivals from this period.
Lunch was in the Dog and Partridge, a Grade II listed, timber framed building, dating back to the 15th century and later a coaching inn. This gave us the opportunity to chat and get know the South Staffordshire group a little better. After lunch, we went to the castle.
The castle is situated on a site which has been occupied since the Stone Age and it is easy to see why, as it commands views stretching for miles over the fertile plains of south Staffordshire. The castle is first recorded in 1071, one of the first by which the Normans stamped their authority on England. It was given to Henry de Ferrers, whose son, Robert was created 1st Earl of Derby. However, the 6th Earl, another Robert, rebelled with Simon de Montfort and after their defeat, the castle was forfeit and Henry III gave it his son, Edmund Crouchback, 1st Earl of Lancaster. The fifth Earl, John of Gaunt visited and patronised the castle. A surviving letter indicates that his wife, Blanche, died there. Their son, Henry IV, carried out extensive improvements, supervised by a master mason previously employed at Kenilworth. These included a new tower and wall on the south-west side. Work continued under Henry V and Henry VI which was nearing completion 1449, when stone was ordered for two decorated fireplaces. The south tower, a four storey residential block was built 1457-61 was known as Queen Margaret's tower after Margaret of Anjou, whose jointure included Tutbury. Only the stair turret and fragments remain.
Richard III spent over £900 on domestic buildings and Henry VII spent a further £250 on "repairing [perhaps completing] a new hall together with a chamber newly situated and built within Tutbury castle". Known in the 16th century as "the King's Lodgings", the new hall was of timber on a stone footing and was "bounded and knit to the wall.", with an entry into the south tower. Described as a "fair stagehall of timber of a great length, fair chambers of timber and other houses of office well upholden with the walls of the said castle". The hall was 61' 6" x 29'; the great chamber 45' x 29 and the lobby 42'6" x 19. The hall and chambers enjoyed views over the castle wall, of the park land.
A survey of 1523, however, reported that the 12 century tower was in utter decay, the gatehouse roof in disrepair and the wall to the north tower "cloven in length in the middle where men should walk, about 100 feet". In 1562 the Lord Treasurer acknowledged that Tutbury was partially in decay but thought it should be maintained, not least for the beauty of the surrounding park and for hunting. It was used four times 1569-85 as one of the places where Mary Queen of Scots was kept secure. She was not impressed, describing it as cold and draughty.
Only fragments of the medieval castle survive. The site remains the property of the Duchy of Lancaster.