Ghosts in the Landscape…Romans, Normans and a Georgian Woodsman

Ghosts in the Landscape…Romans, Normans and a Georgian Woodsman

11th century mott, maybe built on top of an existing mound

I wrote the following ‘short’ for the Folklore Society Newsletter some time ago. It is about the old mott and bailey castle in Brinklow, a village in Warwickshire near to where I sent some of my childhood. Many of us heard tales as children concerning the local landscape: secret passages, fiddlers lost in underground caves and old women roaming the hills. Brinklow ‘tump’ is a huge mound right next to an old lane. As we drove by with my grandma as children, she use to say it contained ‘the bodies of hundreds of Roman soldiers’. This certainly left a lasting impression and I had been meaning to revisit for some time so, one hot July afternoon on the way home to Shropshire we stopped by. It had been many years since I had climbed up to view this landscape that had inspired a local tale…

Brinklow Tump

‘Land features, especially unusual ones, attract all kinds of traditions and tales. I grew up in the West Midlands where giants threw down burdens of soil creating new hills and tumps, the Devil made a chair on the rugged Stiperstones and stone circles imprison bitter old witches, high in the hills. Landmarks throughout the British Isles attract similar tales but sometimes there are stories apparently unique to their environs.

One such case is in a small village called Brinklow in the English county of Warwickshire. Behind the church stands the Castle Mound, remains of a large mott and bailey castle. Known locally as ‘the Tump’, the mott once dominated the landscape and could be easily seen from different aspects of the village before modern encroachments. The name of the village is thought to originate from two Old English elements, brynca and hlaw, hlaw, meaning ‘hill’. Subsequently, Brynca’s Lowe (Brinklow) has been taken as a reference to a much older, man-made ‘tump’ raised long before the Normans came and possibly a grave mound for an Anglo-Saxon called Brynca.

The ‘Tump’ has never been excavated but evidence has been found of even older occupation: Roman coins have been found in the village, some in a ditch forming part of the bailey of the old castle. There is also evidence there may have been a small Roman posting station here along the Fosse Way.

My grandmother use to tell a story how the mound was the grave of hundreds of Roman soldiers. We looked up in awe and almost believed her! This was a local tale, not one of her making, still being told until only a few years ago.

The Fosse Way, an early Roman road linking Axminster with Lincoln, runs through Brinklow, close to the Tump. Coincidence? Maybe. There is a long straight of the Fosse running into the village still known locally as the ‘Straight Mile’, a feature of Roman highways as they cut through the landscape. (In Shropshire a similar ‘straight mile’ near the village of Cardington is known as the ‘Devils Causeway’).

There is some suggestion that the ‘Tump’ has Iron Age origins but again, this is speculative. Roman coins and the nearby Roman superhighway make it tempting to imagine that there could be a connection to an original purpose of ‘the tump’: it could be a possible burial site whether Brynca’s or someone else, long forgotten. More likely the residents have been long aware of the village’s Roman connections and created a children’s ‘fancy’ of long dead Roman soldiers!’

View from the top of the mott

There are extensive earthworks around the mott and you can see some of the medieval ridge and furrow below in the foreground of the picture above. The road in the distance is the Fosse Way. In medieval times this was an important route between Warwick and Leicester and the castle would have held an important strategic position. It was originally held by Earl Alberic de Vere, one of the first Norman overlords for this area. From the top of the mound you really get a sense of the landscape in this part of Warwickshire. It must have been very important to the Normans fighting the Saxon rebellions.

It was a steep slither back down the hill to the road. This wasn’t a problem when I was ten but today I took it very steady! They was one more visit to make…

Memories in Stone

It is a short walk to the graveyard of the church of St John the Baptist. My family have lived in these parts for centuries and I wanted to check upon a particularly important grave there. The church was locked due to Covid restrictions so we made our way round the back to the graveyard. We were looking for the final resting place of Thomas Bolton. Thomas is an ancestor on my paternal grandmother’s side, Florence Bolton (who use to tell us the stories about the Roman soldiers). Thomas’s gravestone is remarkable for the amount of information it tells us about him.

Thomas Bolton was a woodsman at nearby Coombe Fields of Coombe Abbey who died in 1779. (Coombe Abbey was famously central to the Gunpowder Plot in 1605). Two hundred and fifty years later my woodsman husband Chris still uses the same tools as Thomas. It is one of two ‘occupational’ gravestones in the cemetery and show an axe, glave and a billhook (they are known as brummocks in Shropshire). The stone also tells us that Thomas was deaf and dumb.

The following verse has been added:

He chiefly got his livelihood
By faggoting and felling wood.
Till Death, the conqueror of all, Gave the feller himself a fall.

Note his tools at the top of the stone….axe, glove and billhook.

There is another occupational stone of a John Blakemore, a maltster and bricklayer who died forty years later.

It was good to get out that day. Despite the natural world looking as if little had changed we were mindful of restrictions and of the changing world around us. From prehistory to the present day people have left their mark upon this tiny part of England. Much of what happened to them was so very important as are events to us in these times. Today, we can glimpse the past only briefly in the narratives left behind in the landscape and in stone.

5 thoughts on “Ghosts in the Landscape…Romans, Normans and a Georgian Woodsman

  1. Really interesting and I love how the story of the hill full of Roman bones has come down the years. Such a shame these stories are starting to die out. What a wonderful gravestone too, it must be unusual to have so much information about the resident below!

  2. Really enjoyed the October post, I didn’t know about the Tump despite having visited Brinklow several times through the years (when I was a child my Grandfather used to take my Gran, cousin and I out to local pubs there during summer months, then in my twenties Brinklow used to be part of the pub crawl list!). I have lived in Coventry all my life and traced some of my family back in Coventry and Warwickshire up to 1600s so far. Currently researching witchcraft cases in the Midlands. Bye! Paula.

    1. Thank you Paula!
      The tump can be found at the back of the church. Worth the climb up you get some great views all around and towards Coventry.
      Be interested in what you find out through your research into Midlands witchcraft cases.

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