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|
|The village Post Office at the start of Church Walk.|
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.|
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.|
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 http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/warsoftheroses/battlepageview.asp?pageid=378)
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 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 http://www.stokegolding.co.uk/history/watchers_on_the_tower.htm).
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.|
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.|