A Visit from Two Universities
This week, I got an opportunity to visit St Bridget’s Church, West Kirby and the neighbouring West Kirby Museum. The small museum, open every Saturday, contains a range of artefacts revealing the medieval and modern history of West Kirby. St Bridget’s church, open most afternoons, is a lovely church, largely renovated in the 19th century, but containing a range of historic features and a large churchyard with diverse memorial types and a war memorial.
Both church and museum were opened especially to accommodate a special visit from Manchester Metropolitan University’s Dr Ben Edwards and Dr Seren Griffiths who brought their MA students to undertake photogrammetric survey of the Viking hogback stone in the church and some of the medieval stones in the museum.
Ben and Seren have been modelling a range of prehistoric and historic sites in North Wales and you can read about their work here and they have a website dedicated to community engagement in this process here.
Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and myself (both from the Dept of History and Archaeology, University of Chester) joined them (as did my son Tobias) to discuss the early medieval stone sculpture from the site.
The West Kirby Hogback
The West Kirby hogback stone is perhaps the best known of this collection, being one of only two from the Wirral, and perhaps evidence of Hiberno-Norse contacts and possibly settlement in this area (combined with place-name, historical and archaeological evidence). The monument is located in St Bridget’s church and a replica has recently been made for the Museum of Liverpool.
The hogback stone bears heavy damage on its top surface and there has been speculation that it has lost both of its ends. The decoration consists of three bands; wheel and bar ornament on side A’s top, skeuomorphic shingle-roof tegulae in the middle and plaitwork beneath.
Side B, rarely photographed, is very different and has a similar but shallower decorative arrangement. The tegulae, for example, are incised rather than carved in relief.
A New View of the Hogback
At the Istanbul EAA I presented a paper addressing the West Kirby hogback stone and how it might be viewed as a multi-stage, incomplete, rushed and/or ‘failed’ monument; see my blog on this subject. I am currently writing up this argument, based on multiple visits to the monument and benefitting from discussions with Meggen Gondek, Joanne Kirton, Victoria Whitworth and other members of the Runes Network, when we visited West Kirby in 2013.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the visit for me was to air my views with the local people so familiar with the monument, who confirmed that they had already identified the issues I had observed regarding the monument. The input of Seren, Paty and Ben was also valuable.
Patricia and I plan to utilise the laser scans of the monument, generously provided by Liverpool Museums, to write up a new study of the West Kirby hogback stone and its hitherto under-investigated and under-theorised asymmetries and distinctive features.
Beyond the Hogback
Yet the hogback is but one of the tenth-century stones from West Kirby. Like Neston and St John’s Chester, West Kirby has a series of early medieval stone fragments, some seemingly from low wheel-crosses that may have served as high-status grave-markers. There is also one further fragment that might be part of a second hogback monument. They might be summarised with information taken from Richard Bailey’s volume IX of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture as follows:
West Kirby 1 – cross-shaft – 10th century
West Kirby 2 – fragmentary cross-head 10th century
West Kirby 3 – fragmentary cross-head 10th century
West Kirby 5 – fragment of recumbent slab or hogback – 10th century
West Kirby 6 – cross – 11th century
There remains more work to be done to characterise, interpret and communicate to the public the fascinating collection of sculpture at the West Kirby Museum and St Bridget’s church, not only the hogback, nor indeed not only the early medieval stones, but also the later medieval stonework too. For while the museum is fresh, up-to-date and the sculpture is now effectively displayed and communicated through a smart website, there remains key dimensions of this sculpture that escape attention in the current display.
These concerns chime with those of my PhD student – Joanne Kirton – who is currently writing up her doctoral thesis investigating how we can enrich our understanding of assemblages of Viking Age sculpture like that at West Kirby. Moreover, Joanne has been working with St John’s Chester to redisplay their Viking Age stones. In both regards, Joanne’s research is going to make a valuable contribution to the ongoing interpretation of the significance of these stones in the Viking Age, and their subsequent use, reuse and display today.
Ben and Seren kindly offered to share with us and the museum their photogrammetry results. Furthermore, we hope to be in discussion with them, and with our contacts and friends at West Kirby, regarding the potential of our work to enhance their appreciation and display of the monuments both at the site and online.