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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Stoke Golding: Birthplace of the Tudor Dynasty

“I would rather be first in a small village in Gaul than second in command in Rome” ~ Julius Caesar

I love the village of Stoke Golding. It has fine memories for me of our first months together as husband and wife aboard NB Valerie. We also spent a week recently at Ashby Canal Centre in Stoke Golding, blacking our boat which gave me plenty of time for a look around. 

Single lane bridge to Stoke Golding
   As the weeks led into the festive winter holiday season bringing shorter days and longer nights, I made a Saturday foray into the village. Cars honked a warning to those out of site on the other side as they made for the single lane canal bridge in and out of Stoke Golding.
The village Post Office at the start of Church Walk.
   Mothers pushing babies in prams and fathers holding tightly to the hands of small children shared the village sidewalks with folks of all ages stopping by the Post Office to mail holiday cards and packages.
   A late afternoon sun shown through pudding clouds as neighbors tarried to chat with one another. Slowly folks began to gather along the path leading to the church of Saint Margaret of Antioch, dating back to the 13th century. An afternoon service at St. Margaret's Church included the singing of Christmas carols. I arrived just in time to slip inside and take a seat in one of the ancient wooden pews with latching doors. How many villagers had warmed these seats in the last seven centuries as they listened to the Christian gospel?
Moving along past the post office, general store and hair dressers...

...towards the entrance to the church of Saint Margaret of Antioch, 13th century.
   It was a good thing a carol sheet was supplied because lo and behold traditional Christmas carols in England may share the same title as those in the USA but there are some interesting differences as I found out! Several carols seemed to use the same music repeatedly and still others had lyrics of which I have not heard. Who knew??!!
   While not a Christian in my personal beliefs, I sat and listened to the brief service which did indeed remind me of the Catholic mass of my youth minus a bit of high ritual.
   As I looked around the ancient church my eye caught the well worn slate headstones of the long dead which were buried under the floor many hundreds of years ago. I sat wondering if the long dead souls took any comfort in the continuity of worship spanning over seven hundred years.
   Amongst the arched stonework and old roof timbers the carved ancient faces of the Green Man looked back at me, articulating the mixture of Pagan and Christian which is the real underpinning of the season. As we filed out chocolates were offered in a festive spirit at the door.

   Outside in the gathering dusk I walked quietly in thought, watching old fashioned street lights blink on like magic to shine across darkened walkways. 
   Squirrels ran along old stone walls, hurrying home to add foundling nuts to a growing larder; wrens sat in the bare branches of hedgerows cocking their heads from side to side, tails seeming to dip up and down as if to ask, "Where are all the berries?" 
   A long, wet summer with too much rain and too little sun left thousands of miles of hawthorn trees bereft of winter bird food. Only the different species of roses hanging amidst the decaying blackberry shrubs and naked Hawthorn branches offer any nourishment. Plump, leathery scarlet rose hips glow in the dim afternoon.
   As I walked back along the road in the early evening dark, Les came up from the boatyard, LED torch in hand, to look for me. Such loving thoughtfulness touches me as we turn and walk arm in arm back to the boat.
Ancient graves by the side of the church

St. Margaret's lit from within as dusk descends
Typical of all small medieval villages, the church spire is the highest thing to be seen throughout Stoke Golding.
   Across the canal I could see the lit spire of St. Margaret's atop Crown Hill and I was reminded of the Battle of Bosworth where Richard III lost his kingdom and his life on August 22nd, 1485, to The Earl of Richmond--who was crowned on said hill in this very village as Henry VII where the Tudor dynasty was born.
   Over the week we blacked our boat I thought often of the gathering masses of soldiers on both sides who fought in what was the final decisive battle of the thirty year long War of the Roses: the White Rose of the House of York supporting the Plantagenet regime, and the Red Rose of the House of Lancaster which supported the Welsh born Henry's bid for the throne as the battle drew nigh.
   Locals from the village climbed the parapets of the church tower that fateful morning to view the clash of the two armies two miles hence on the fields of Redemore as it was then known, which lay to the north of Stoke Golding and the nearby village of Dadlington. "King Richard had 10-15,000 troops at his disposal--more than twice the number available to Henry." (The Battlefields Trust; UK Battlefields Resource Center. 2001-2012. Accessed online on 12/24/2012 at
    Henry, who had been exiled in France, returned with 2000 French mercenaries. Marching from Pembrokshire in Wales, the army followed the old Roman Road known as Watling Street. Richard and his army traveled from Leicester along the old Roman Fenn Lane. Both armies decamped the night before the battle on the plains around Ambion Hill. 
    In the pre-dawn hush the morning we were due to leave the marina and go back into the Ashby Canal, the spire of St. Margaret's again caught my eye. As first light broke I sat staring out the window at the pointed tower thinking of twenty thousand troops preparing for battle the morning of August 22nd, 1485.
   The very same spire was the main sight on the horizon for all those men as they heaved to, gearing up for war. On the early morning breeze I listened with my eyes closed. I could hear men shouting, chain mail and weapons clanking and horses snorting and neighing as knights mounted, shields in place. Soldiers buckled their helms and tried their longbows. Infantrymen fell in as their footsteps tolled the march to battle.
St. Margaret's spire in the pre-dawn hours...
As dawn assembles so too do the sounds of an ancient battle...
How many of those men looked in the first rays of an August morning, to the spire of St. Margaret for reassurance?
   "The watchers on the tower saw the armies closing and about ten o'clock heard the shouts of command faintly in the distance.  The gap  between the two armies began to close. Then at 250 yards they saw the first black flights of arrows, like flocks  of birds rising and falling.  They could see  men on both sides fall, their screams of agony carrying on the morning air.
The archers could use their longbows to good effect at 250 yards. As they closed  they proved themselves deadly,  firing 15 arrows a minute, the hardened heads of the shafts penetrating the leather tunics of the soldiers and, at closer range the armour of the knights.
The watchers with the sharpest eyes could see the various sections of the armies as they closed or fell back. One shouted he could see the King on his white courser. He even claimed to see the sun sparkle on his golden crown." (Courtesy of the Trust of Thomas Barton, accessed online, 12/24/2012 at
   After ninety minutes of combat it appeared the King had routed Henry's soldiers; suddenly the tide of conflict turned and Richard was overwhelmed. He went down and never rose again. Thirty years of conflict died on the fields of Redemoor with Richard Plantagenet and a new royal dynasty was born.
    Henry and his men moved up into a Stoke Golding farmyard to rest while the dying were dispatched with a dagger under chain mail and the dead were carried off the field to be buried in mass graves in Stoke Golding and Dadlington. Henry's troops sustained a loss of approximately 100; Richard's army lost over 1000 men. 
The canal is just below and past the hedge about 2000 yards. Crown Hill Farm.
Blue plaques throughout the village commemorate sites of historical importance thanks to the Charity of Thomas Barton.
    The king's golden circlet was found amongst some Hawthorn bushes and brought to the farm yard where Henry was crowned with it by his Uncle, Lord Stanley, whose son was held hostage by Richard to ensure Stanley would commit his considerable troops to the royal will. Instead Lord Stanley and his troops held their own ground and watched at a distance until it was clear Richard was losing the fight at which point they entered the fray and mopped up the field, scouring the area for weapons, and valuables. Henry's men made themselves comfortable in the chapel of St. Margaret, sharpening their swords on the stone cills under the windows.
    For me history is still alive in the village of Stoke Golding, where one Thomas Barton, local man, established a trust July 10th, 1400 by deedpoll to make funds available to repair the local roadways in benefit of commerce. The trust, ruled by seven trustees, owned considerable acreage and a few homes in and around the area from which it received revenues. Poor management almost saw Barton's Trust bankrupted in the 1600's.  In 1929 the oversight of this trust was ceded to the Stoke Golding Parish Council which has sold some properties in the charity's portfolio to provide investment funds. "With roads and pavement repairs being the responsibility of local and county councils, it was decided by the Trustees to ask the Charity Commissioners for a new order to be made to allow the Trustees to spend interest from their investments for the general benefit of all the people of Stoke Golding. This Order was granted on 17 July 1992 and thus, the generous endowment by Thomas Barton in 1400 celebrates its 600th anniversary on 10 July 2000 by still providing benefits for the village community." (Narrative by Denis Cash; The Charity of Thomas Barton, copyright reserved, 1999.)
   A once king, a future king, and a common man. So much history has marched on the roads Master Barton funded for repair and upkeep. I too, have trod their way and while I am nobody important, a bit of me mingles ever after in Stoke Golding with the breath of kings and commoners who oversaw a slice of this country's history. 
Dawn on The Ashby Canal at Stoke Golding; St. Margaret's spire on Crown Hill.


Ken and Sue nb Cleedau said...

A story about Henry passed down for generations in Pembrokeshire (our part of the World) where he landed:
The local Lord of the Manor had sworn an oath to Richard that " Henry would only pass over his body if he arrived in Pembrokeshire".
The Lord's problem was that Henry had some 500 plus troops and he could only raise 50. The Lord consulted with his priest to be told that if he broke his oath then his soul would be condemned to eternal damnation. It was looking very black for the Lord - death or eternal damnation!
Henry was getting closer and closer. In desperation the Lord consulted the "wise woman from the Presslie Mountains". She asked him to repeat his oath exactly to her. "Did you say body or dead body?" she queried. For him salvation - "only over his body".
So he lay under a bridge and Henry crossed over it. Oath fulfilled he got up and joined the winning side.
Happy New Year to You and Les.
Ken and Sue

Anonymous said...

Boxing day has just past. And am reading the Stoke Golding commentary.
Reading the various narrow boating blogs and as previously noted "The
Anatomy of Canals" have to keep reminding myself the chronological age
of whati s now the uNited kIngdom. And how young the UNited States is and
Canada even younger, where here a structure of 250 years is considered ancient.

It is snowinng heavily here at the west end of Lake Ontario this early morning hour of 00:45 Eastern Standard Time. We had little or snow last winter and it is a joy (although the drivers of motor vehicles may think otherwise ) to see snow and confirmmation that indeed it is a proper winter once again. And Jaq will attest to the first snowfall enaures drivers of vehicles have to learn all over again how to drive in snow. It never fails, right? Interesting comment from the first visit of les to your home state and they allow studded tyres there which have been
banned in Ontario for many years and in the province of Quebec snow tyres on all vehicles is the law
for six months of the year from the first of November, no exceptions.

Before i forget, I can arrange for Liptons Soup mix to be purchased here and sent to a postal drop in the UK if you so desire. UK Customs might have a field day then again we can always try. Drop me a postal address point under a seperate cover and your specific requirements and we may go from there.

Have to contact Phil and Mike Muir at some point, I assume the canals are still more or less open for
vessels so far this winter...

Happy New Year!

Mike Muir said...

Jaq, yer rites good, Lass!
Mike, nb GARNET

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

I apologize for taking so long to answer these comments! I don't know what happened and how I lost track but there 'ya go!

Sue and Ken--I love that story! History is fascinating if one can find the details in actual lives lived and places which still exist to tell the tales.
Jaq and Les

Hi Bryce! We've had the most amazingly mild weather up to this point--only about a week of really cold, freezing temperatures the very last of November and beginning of December. since then it's been lovely! Almost too warm to keep a fire going at night.

I do indeed know what first snowfalls and heavy snowfalls mean. Because I am an Alaskan, we just threw on the studded snow tires each fall as soon as law permitted and carried on with common sense. Snow tires are being banned in a lot of lower forty eight states and not used much in WA state--but I swear by them. Four wheel drive will NOT keep a person out of the ditch; it may make it easier to get out again though!

Thanks for the offer of Lipton Onion Soup mix--we will certainly let you know. Meanwhile enjoy your forays into canal literature. I think it is all fascinating! Stay warm, dry, safe and may the New Year bring you good health and loads of laughter amongst friends and family.
Jaq and Les

Awww! Thanks Mike!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs