Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Sea Henge: 8 years on...

To coincide with the news that what is left of the Sea Henge monument is to be displayed in the Museum of Kings Lynn by Easter 2008, I have taken another look at this controversial and interesting topic with the help of East Anglian corespondent Jane Cook.

In the spring of 2050 BC, a huge oak tree was felled and its stump upturned and half-buried on a site near to what is now Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. The following year, a number of smaller oaks were felled and cut into 56 posts, which were arranged in a circle around the central stump. The Bronze-Age monument, said by some modern archaeologists to be among the most exciting ever discovered, may have formed some kind of religious site, associated with special astronomical significance.

Both the circle and the people who built it were long forgotten before the land on which it stood became submerged by the sea. Its existence had vanished even from folk memory until, almost 4,000 years after its construction, the shifting sands off the East Anglian coast moved again to reveal its presence. The ancient site quickly became known as Sea Henge, and was soon to become very controversial, as English Heritage decided that they were going to remove it and conserve it miles away from its location. Druids and Pagans quickly organised sit-in protests against English Heritage's decision, and a bitter war of words raged right up to the point of removal.

Agreement was eventually reached over the future of the 'henge' and, in the summer of 1999, it was finally recorded and removed to the Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre, near Peterborough. There, as well as being preserved, the ancient timbers were subjected to detailed tree-ring dating. It was from these that a precise date was arrived at for the felling of the trees that make up the Sea Henge circle. The tree rings gave three possible dates, which were narrowed down to just one – 2050 BC – after comparisons with a series of carbon dating tests. The time of year – between April and June – was obtained by an examination of the final growth ring of the main stump, which showed that the tree had been felled in the spring. For further information on the area and Sea Henge visit: http://www.northcoastal.freeserve.co.uk/henge.htm

SEA HENGE RETURNS

The newly refurbished Kings Lynn museum will be the permanent home of the iconic sea henge monument. All the timbers have undergone specialist conservation at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth. Work has included immersing the timbers in a liquid wax solution, which replaced the water and supported the cell structure. The timbers were then freeze-dried to remove any remaining water. The display is set to be completed and open to the public at Easter 2008.

STRANGE DAYS SURROUNDING THE SEA HENGE DEBACLE

A report by Jane Cook

During the Sea henge debacle I was living in Suffolk so I could follow events on the local news that probably never reached the rest of the country. Although I couldn't go to Holme, I managed to contact an elderly gentleman who had lived in the area all his 90 odd years. He said the stumps had been successively covered and uncovered by the sea and sand for as long as he could remember and they had not been significantly worn away. He was furious at what he saw as the interference of English Heritage, insisting the Henge was part of the area and should stay there.

I then contacted English Heritage and put to them that, once removed from their original site, the timbers became nothing but that: lumps of wood. I tried to explain the significance of the placing of such items; the fact that it was done as a form of "earth acupuncture" to modify energy lines in particular places, often in order to avoid undesirable effects. I was met with a response that was little short of abusive. The removal of the timbers went ahead, and they were taken to the Flag Fen Centre in order to undergo archaeological conservation.

Over the following months several news items appeared which I doubt many but myself connected with Sea henge. However, I have never believed in coincidences, and the location of a succession of freak accidents in that area seemed to me significant. One such was the disappearance to two highly experienced sailors - life boat men - who were delivering a boat they had built. They had left in calm weather to travel a few miles along the coast but they never arrived.

The ultimate bizarre event was when the Flag Fen Centre burned down, during January 2000, leaving undamaged only the building that housed the tanks containing the Sea henge timbers. Despite a thorough investigation, a cause for the fire could not be established.

Last week I saw on the news that the Sea henge timbers are finally going on display. What a pointless exercise! Even leaving aside the spate of accidents, surely the resources of English Heritage could have been far better spent.

What do you think? Please let us know.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Witch Sticks of Finchingfield



An Investigation by Alex Langstone
Way back in the summer of 1994 I was lucky enough to have a private viewing of two unique artefacts from the strange and interesting history of Essex witchcraft. Having grown up in the historic witch county of Essex, I was intrigued to find out more about these 18th century “witch sticks”.

Only a couple of written reference to the Finchingfield Witch Sticks can be found prior to my interest. One of which can be seen in a book entitled Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman. The other is a report in the Halstead Gazette in July 1979. So, with this in mind, here is my account of the known history and folklore surrounding these hidden gems of Essex Witch history. Shortly after the war, the late Dan Peddar inherited a 17th century cottage deep in the north Essex countryside, close to the historic, and much photographed village of Finchingfield. Dan and his wife moved from the south coast and settled down in their ancestral home, in Howe Street, Finchingfield. The cottage is a beautiful 17th century beamed building, a typical village house of the period, and soon after they moved in, Dan set about doing some repairs to the east wall. Whilst this work was in progress, Dan made a curious discovery. Hidden in the old masonry he found a carved walking stick. Made of rosewood and slightly longer than an average walking stick, it had two coiled serpents carved around it, each snaking in opposite directions to each other.

Upon making further investigations Dan found out that his family had lived in the cottage since it had been built in the seventeenth century, and that one of the houses 18th century occupants was a family member called Goofy Mumford. Goofy was known in the village as a witch, and was the local school mistress. Goofy used to teach some of her school girls the ancient craft of witchery after school hours in the cottage. At first the villagers respected Goofy and used to ask for advice and for healing, but one autumn some of the local crops failed, and Goofy was blamed. The village quickly turned against her, and on one particular occasion in 1780, the locals tuned up at the cottage and beat Goofy with a stick, before stoning her to death. This stick was then placed into the cottage wall as a charm and Goofy Mumford was buried at the nearby crossroads.

Dan later found a second stick hidden in the roof thatch near to the chimney, this stick is slightly shorter that the first one, and is marked with the images of birds, bees, hares, butterflies, flowers and a bull leading three cows. The top of the stick is extremely phallic in it's shape, suggesting that this may be a fertility stick. These images are all burned into the wood.

Dan took the two sticks to the British Museum, and they told him that they believed that the sticks were protection charms. The sticks are certainly interesting magical artefacts, which were probably some of Goofy's tools of the trade, although the story does state that Goofy was beaten by one of the sticks, this could be a later addition to the tale to give the artefact some credence as a charm of protection against witchcraft. I believe that these sticks were used for healing and sorcery, they certainly look the part. In recent years since the death of Dan Peddar, the Witch Sticks have become lost, and unfortunately, I have no idea where their location is today. The cottage is now under new ownership, and despite attempts to contact the present owners, no new information is forthcoming. *

The story didn't end there however. One hot summers afternoon Dan was digging in his garden, when he was pushed in the small of his back. He turned around expecting to see his wife, but no one was there. He continued digging, and shortly afterwards the same thing happened again. He carried on digging, but was a little concerned at the pushing to his back. It happened a third time, and as it did, his spade hit something in the ground. He dug around and unearthed a box containing two pewter mugs. He believed that the spirit of Goofy Mumford was trying to attract his attention to tell him about the mugs.

For many years now the cottage had built up a reputation as being a witch's cottage, and during the 1960s and 1970s tourists used to turn up to make a wish at the well in the garden, and to view the witch sticks. Stories are told about the wishes quickly coming true for some folk, including one story about a man who wished his wife dead. This wish manifested incredibly quickly, and after which, visitors were cautioned on the living magical properties of the wishing well.

*UPDATE
During the early part of 2015, the Finchingfield witch sticks finally resurfaced. They went on permanent display at Finchingfield museum, having been donated by a family member, and can now be viewed by all.

References.
Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman. 1985
Mysterious Essex video. 1994
Special thanks to Carole Young for supplying her original article, photographs and research notes, which were invaluable in putting this feature together. Stills taken from Mysterious Essex video by Heritage Films. Author photo by Carole Young.
Halstead Gazette, July 1979
Buy Mysterious Essex volumes 1 and 2 on DVD here