On 6th July I went to the Holy Trinity church at Bolton le Sands (formerly St Michael) to meet with representatives of the Parish Church Council regarding the medieval stones they have. Why?
The church had been in touch with me in May to gain my views on how the stones could be re-displayed. I was unable to visit at that time and simply gave them some general advice via email. However, I was now able to visit and learn more about the stones and the circumstances in which they find themselves.
The church has a Heritage Lottery grant to restore the roof of the north aisle and nave, but in addition it hopes to re-display the medieval stones – 3 later medieval grave-slabs (4 fragments), 3 larger medieval architectural features, and 2 early medieval stones dated to the 10th/11th centuries AD.
The motive to re-display the stones was in large part prompted by a visit by Nottingham University academics who (rightly) made critical note in the church’s visitor book to the effect that the stones were poorly displayed. We met the stones in a sorry state of display; propped up on either side of the west door of the tower, with the most important face of Bolton le Sands 2 (the possible fragment of hogback) facing the wall, with one of the fragments of later medieval stone learning against it. Unsuprisingly, when we moved the two early medieval stones for photography, we found plenty of (relatively) fresh scrapes and wear. All of this is evidence that the stones are in urgent need of adequate and secure display as soon as possible.
So I went to offer them some advice but also to offer the church the opportunity to record the stones to a high standard by bringing along artist and archaeologist Dr Aaron Watson. Aaron has the expertise to not only record the stones to a high standard, but also advise them on the potential for their heritage display and interpretation.
While I talked to visitors and Brian James (the church guy), Aaron conducted a detailed photographic record of the two early medieval stones. One – Bolton le Sands 1 – is considered by Richard Bailey to be a cross-shaft fragment, but I’m not convinced it couldn’t be a grave-slab. Two sides have well-preserved decoration: the broad face A has ring-encircled twists. Narrow face B has three-strand plait. Lateral border mouldings survive. The other – Bolton le Sands 2 – is a part of a hogback stone – a recumbent gravestone, with a poorly preserved area of roof tegulae still be to seen (a skeuomorphic feature of a canopy or roof over the grave).
Both stones were reused and carved in the 12th century or later. Bolton le Sands 1 with a figural scene, two men and a woman. Bolton le Sands 2 has a man grappling with a serpent.
From his photography on the day, Aaron can create high-quality and scaled colour still images of the stones. He can also create a photogrammetric model of each stone. These should complement and enhance the visual record of the stones; to date comprising of published black-and-white photographs taken for the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture (Bailey 2010, plates 421-428). As well as their academic use for researchers, I hope they help the church in the following ways:
- a valuable addition to the church’s archive;
- a high-quality conservation record of the stones;
- support for the heritage interpretation within the church through text panels and AV displays
- support a range of educational activities you might create using the church and churchyard;
- images for any publications you intend to produce about the church’s history;
- visual details of the history of the church on your website and other digital resources.
Bailey, R. 2010. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture Volume IX: Cheshire and Lancashire, Oxford: Oxford University Press.