Posts Tagged ‘Cheshire’


The Blackden Trust has been set up to promote and facilitate education, history and culture. The Trust is based around the life, work and experience of the writer Alan Garner.

The site consists of two joined houses, in their own grounds, set well away from the village, and other houses, farms. The site itself abuts a railway line; on the other side of which and a mile or so to the north is The Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope and grounds.

The first house has been kept as the Garner family home, and is ruefully known as T’Owd Hall (The Old Hall). The other is an old reconstructed timber-frame building, known as The Medicine House. This house dates back to possibly the 15th Century. It was bought very cheaply from part of a road-widening demolition scheme, taken apart piece by piece, and three wagon loads then brought to the new site, and the whole house rebuilt.
That was in 1970; by 1972 the house had been reconstructed and was once again a livable space. There were a number of alterations to the structure, but the overall layout has been kept, and original timbers used wherever possible.


Griselda Garner and her team of volunteers take visiting parties around The Medicine House, and allow free access to most of the grounds. A semi-permanent marquee is erected at the back of the site for visitors (and to keep the hens company).

Alan Garner and family have enhanced the site with brought-in objects from nearby finds. The houses contain cabinets of objects dug up on site, nearby, or from further afield; these are neatly time-lined, and date from neolithic arrow heads, flint tools, a medieval seal, to pottery, Civil War musket shot, and much later objects. The Owl Service table-ware is on display here as well.
One of these brought-in objects is a stone obelisk, now sited in the garden: a carved monolith, like a standing stone, and is supposedly a boundary marker.


Indoors, in the joining passageway is another carved  object: a 10th century stone head.

The grounds have been planted out with many different varieties of apple trees and gooseberry bushes, a pear tree, and a damson tree. Not forgetting a small green-house bursting and festooned with bunches of small, sweet grapes.

When the timbers from the old Medicine House were stored for reconstruction on the front lawn, they left behind herb seeds. Since then many varieties of herbs have grown. These have been arranged into beds, and all labeled.

Alan Garner has been active in the restoration of many old properties in the area.

Griselda Garner showed us many interesting aspects and secrets of The Medicine House. It was once two houses, but now has been combined into one. The fireplace is the where the two join. Now that closed fireplace is an open fire area in the middle of the house, with the chimney open to the roof cowl.

Griselda told of objects found in a window space. They were owner-objects, a declaration of the house as space belonging to its owners. The house has also been provided with protective symbols in its most sensitive areas: doors, windows etc.

The most important of these found objects was a small squashed lead bottle. It had contained holy water, and was decorated with two interlocking V’s on one side, and on the other a daisy wheel.
The bottle was from the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in Norfolk. It would have contained water from the shrine.
This symbol of two interlocking V’s. spelling out the W for Walsingham (also Vivat?), when reversed also gives M, for Mary mother of Christ.

In post-Reformation, newly Protestant times, the house had been made safe by these hidden symbols on the beams. They are very hard to read among all the wear and tear and time’s ravages. Also, the beams were plastered over for some period.

Griselda showed how each corner of the main bedroom was marked on the beams with the scratched protective Walsingham initial. This is the only room to be marked out like this.
She suggested it may refer to a protective charm, with a spell attached. We have something like it still, in form of a Bedtime Prayer:

Matthew, Mark, Luke & John
Bless the bed I lay on.
Four corners around my bed
Four angels around my head.
1 to watch
1 to pray
2 to take my soul away.

There are older versions of this prayer, she said. One is Jewish:

In the name of Adonai the God of Israel;
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael…
and above my head the Sh’khinah.

This one is particularly interesting.
I was thinking further on this. She mentioned the four corners of the room marked for protection, and with the ways of superstition and magic being to make use of everything from everywhere, this Jewish canopy-prayer could well be pertinent.
Visually it provides us with a square-based pyramid of protection in this room, connecting above with the Almighty, Sh’khinah, keeping watch

.A lot depends on whether there is a protective mark also, on the ceiling’s centre beam.

You can take this still further.
This pyramid symbol, is it also the alchemical symbol for fire? It may just be possible to imagine an invocation here of the archangel associated with fire (Michael), to protect the timber-framed house. This use of fire to protect from fire, is very much an example of what is termed ‘magical thinking.’

And yet, the symbol for fire is the tetrahedron: all triangles, base as well. The one in the house is a symbol that moves from square, that is, earth, to air and fire: it is a symbol of solidity plus power – Strength.

But then, why just this room? Why not the whole timber-framed house? It was once two houses, but is now combined at the fire section, providing an open central hearth and chimney. Even this is not a clean half-and-half division; neither was a four-square house.

Is it to protect the owners during sleep, childbirth, death even: all the most vulnerable times of one’s life?

I have to admit I became very fond of Griselda in the short time we were there. She is very generous with her time, and has boundless energy. Lovely woman.


And here below is the Trust’s own labyrinth, based on the site’s existing well. The alignment of the diagonal has some connection with the constellation of Orion. Maybe the angle of the belt?


For further on the writing of Alan Garner, see the chapter on The Stone Book, in my GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD, Amazon kindle, 2016.
Earlier version:

The 2015 Well Dressing season is underway!

My local town has SIX exhibits this year. The themes are what may be expected for watchers of current British cultural interests. But with one spectacular exception!
The themes have been commemorations of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day): 70 years. Magna Carta: 800 years. The Battle of Waterloo: 200 years. I will come to the exception later – none of you will guess what it is!

There are many and conflicting theories about the origin of Well Dressing.

The most touching I heard was that it was a kind of blessing and thanks for God’s mercy for sparing villages from the plague. Once villagers’ showed symptoms, it was said, the whole village took it upon themselves to isolate themselves from surrounding villages to not to spread the contagion further. Any food or necessities were left at the village boundary and no contact whatsoever was to take place. It is recorded that every member of some families died; even the village the priest died. No one was there to bury the dead. Terrible times. The few who remained afterwards blessed the well – maybe thought to be the one fount of clean water.

Was it a blessing to the local naiad; then Christianised and dedicated to a Saint connected with the local parish church? Or was it indeed a later attempt to introduce local colour and custom? It is  also claimed the Tissington well in Derbyshire was the first to bless its well, after a 14th Century plague.

Wikipedia has it the ceremony was started in the Nineteenth Century, at the instigation of local wealthy landowners

The ceremony takes place now throughout Derbyshire as well places in Staffordshire, Cheshire, South Yorkshire, Shropshire. There has even been a ceremony in Kent. (Reprinted from last year’s blog)

The exhibits:
The weather was holding out well; hot sun, dry;summer clothes, and good spirits. A crowd had gathered, the local  vicar was in attendance, and then the town major came forward to open the Well Dressing. She spoke of the origins on Well Dressing in the fourteenth century plague years, commenting wryly on how long it had taken this town to catch on to the practice. The northern English and small, mostly rural, town inhabitants appreciate the wry tone, the understatements that carry a stubborn pride in place, but that is not blind to the shortcomings either.

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The full display had to wait until the crowd dispersed:

The two small side panels mention the local nursing home: Mount Hall (nearly adjacent) and the other side the tenth anniversary of well-dressing in the town.
I was interested in the craft of the display, so have tried to show how finely the flower petals are set in their wet clay base, and carefully arranged for effect:
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The hair of the soldier is constructed from coffee beans! The helmet and conflagration background are tight dried flower heads. Other effects are produced by using course sand.
The Opening Ceremony was followed by a year-nine children’s dance piece to ‘Blue Suede Shoes. Four rows of alternating boys and girls, and dressed like members of the film Grease. Why? See the next exhibit:
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This is an expressionist display commemorating eighty years of Elvis Presley. Yup, he would have been eighty this year!
The display was made by St Gregory’s School.

The town is a linear settlement. These first two exhibits are for one end of the town. A mile and more down the road into the hills we come to the other displays:

A particularly fine exhibit commemorating eight hundred years of Magna Carta.
Its uses as a legal document have been notoriously varied. The first copy’s effectiveness was greatly diluted by the time the standard version was issued. It started as means of barons limiting a king’s power, and became in the standard issue a means of binding the barons to the following king. It has been used to support slavery, as well as to denounce it. A charter for all seasons? The question remains, however: where would we have been by now without it?

And then in the Memorial Gardens:

The side designs  are of the colours of the various regiments of local men. The old willow tree behind still has Commemorative poppies twined in its foliage,
I find it strange how the overseas and commonwealth serving people still do not receive the recognition they deserved.

We now come to a large and well-executed exhibit:.

This is a particularly fine display. You cannot tell the size from the photo but the two panels together must be over six feet in length. And you actually see the well that it is set above.
It is interesting to note how Wellington is shown fully, for all his obstreperousness, and Napoleon Bonaparte only shown from the back.

I have recently had the honour of meeting a man, getting on in years now, who was reduced to sleeping rough in this area. He knew this well and praised it for its ‘sweet water’. Thankfully now he has accommodation.
I had written above of the local people; they admire resilience, and also enterprise – of a certain kind, and up to a point. Anything beyond those limits easily tips over into vehement dislike.
What they don’t value are people who do not or cannot live up to this. People like this man. It is fear at the back of it, the ages old rural fear of poverty. To be poor in the countryside is to be really very poor. Rural poverty has the characteristics of the plague, in that is viewed with the same fear, and presumed as virulent and easy to catch from association. It is perhaps fitting that he knew and used this well that here partly commemorates the plague years.
The homeless carry around with them their loss: to lose one’s home leaves a major psychological gulf, it is though one loses part of oneself. It is very difficult to recover from it. And so this man wanders around the main town; he can often be seen feeding the pigeons. It is as though they are his only companions. We speak and spend time with him, but I doubt we can ever know him now. It is as though something has been lost in him.

The last exhibit:


Ok, I had two goes at catching this one: a three-panel piece – but the light was beyond my camera to do anything about. Shows what a glorious day it was, though!
This was the last exhibit, at the far end of the town. Another Magna Carta theme, and you can see how the far left panel has wanted to catch a medieval-illustration effect. The right panel is based on an imaginative Runnymede setting.

This last exhibit was surrounded by seats, a stall selling cakes, and a stall providing tea and coffee. All for the weary traveller following the Well-Dressing route.There was a special leaflet with the route (see link below), provided free at the Opening Ceremony.

Further information and links: