Derwydd ym maes onnen

Discovering Druidry in and around Ashfield

Month: June 2019

Alban Hefin at Silver Hill and the birth of sacred sites.

In years past I have made the pilgrimage to Stonehenge to celebrate the Summer Solstice. This year, I stayed local and I am glad that I did.

Each year, the celebration of Alban Hefin, Litha, Midsummer or the Summer Solstice seems to enter popular culture a little more. This year there was even a Summer Solstice Party in Portland Square in the centre of Sutton-In-Ashfield, featuring local school children singing and family fun and games. A genuine official event put on by the local authorities, though with very little recognition of the solstice itself or any importance it might have.

It seems that this trend is growing year on year. The BBC reported that 10,000 people attended Stonehenge this year, and I can’t help but suspect that many were there for the first time, and know very little about the reasons they were there. They are simply attracted to the event. That was certainly true back in 2015 when I stayed at the Stonehenge camp site and got talking to many of the people staying there in the lead up to the solstice. There were genuinely people attending that really had no idea what the solstice or the stones were all about, and I think that is a good thing. It seems that there is something unknown, unseen that is driving people towards these sorts of events, towards the Pagan community, and they are growing each year.

Silver Hill in Ashfield is a place where I walk with my dog almost every day. It is the default place I go because there are not normally a lot of people there, and it is big enough that I can see far enough to safely let the dog off his lead to have a good run about. So I was rather surprised to learn that a Summer Solstice event was being organised there for sunset.

Sun rise at Silver Hill 21-06-2019

I was up early enough on the morning of the Solstice to make my way to Silver Hill and climb to the top in time for the sunrise. At 4:30 in the morning there was no one else around but the birds. I sat and watched the sunrise in the North-East, just to the left of the power station visible on the horizon. Although there was cloud overhead, the horizon was clear as the sun began to light the sky pink and orange. I remained until the sun was fully up, and made my way back home.

After a full day of activity, I made my way back to Silver Hill around 7pm. When I arrived I was surprised to see a steady stream of people going both up and down the hill, and began to suspect this local Solstice celebration might have more than the handful of people I was expecting.

Waiting for sunset

It was a quiet event with perhaps 100 people in attendance, and as the sun went down people began to play instruments and drums. Others were dancing too, and the atmosphere began to feel charged with the energy and enthusiasm of the people there.

I did not stop long after the sun went down around 9:30 (it had been a long day!) and I made my way back home again.

Sunset

The next day I began to think about how good it was to have such a well attended public Pagan event so local, and I also got to thinking about the location and sacred sites.

Of course there were many other gatherings up and down the country (and indeed all over the world). Stonehenge, Avebury, and the Nine Ladies to name but a few. The difference is that these places are all considered “sacred sites”. Silver Hill, as far as I know is not. In fact Silver Hill is an artificial landscape created after the end off the coal mining industry. The small hill at the top with the miner statue is actually the highest man-made point in Nottinghamshire, so it is a perfect place for viewing the solstice even if there are no apparent alignments with other hills, etc.

So what makes a site sacred? I do not know if other people would draw up a list of specific requirements. They might cite such things as solar alignments or the antiquity of the site. For me all of nature is a sacred site, but I also believe a site is what people make of it. If enough people see a place as sacred, treat it as such, and use it for worship then it is a sacred site. Over time the site will even start to acquire energy and a character.

Sacred sites are often sacred to something or someone. This could be a deity for example. In the case of Silver Hill, I think it would be contrived to try and associate a Deity with the location at this point. But that is not to say that there is not appropriate symbology at Silver Hill that could be built on.

The stand out feature at Silver Hill is the statue of a miner. This statue reminds us of how important coal mining was in the local area. Or put another way, this statue reminds us of the importance of coal mining to our recent ancestors of place (and for many ancestors of blood). It reminds us of the dangerous jobs, the dirty conditions and the suffering of our recent ancestors. It also reminds us of the legacy of the coal industry on our towns and countryside.

For these reasons then, I propose that Silver Hill from this point forward be treated as a genuine local sacred site that we as the local pagan community can build upon and work with. A site sacred to the ancestors of place. A site we as the local pagan community can continue to use for celebrations.

Rainworth, the place British paganism died.

I am going to digress a little from my normal subject matter of Iron Age and earlier local history, and take a moment to introduce to you an interesting theory from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Rainworth is the village I lived in from the ages of 3 to 17. During this time I got to know the local area pretty well, walking our dog all over the nearby woods and heath land. Especially the heath known locally as “the bogs”, with Rainworth Water River flowing along its western side. I now think it is very possible that in this location events occurred that sealed England’s fate and conversion to Christianity.

St. Edwin

Born in 586 AD, Edwin was the son of the Pagan King Aelle of Deira. We do not know if Edwin was first in line to the throne, but it was Aethelfrith who assumed the kingship around 604 AD. By this time the kingdom had merged with another and had become Northumbria. Whether or not Edwin was first in line to the throne, for some reason Aethelfrith was intent on murdering Edwin, so he fled. First he fled to Gwynedd in Wales, then to Mercia. By the early 610s he was under the protection of the powerful Christian king Raedwald of East Anglia.

At first Aethelfrith tried to bribe and then threaten Raedwald into giving up Edwin, but Raedwald’s wife had a divine vision, and persuaded Raedwald that is was not honourable to give Edwin up in this way. Also, Ethelberga of Kent, Edwin’s intended bride was a Christian, and her father would only allow the marriage if Ethelberga could continue to practice her faith.

In defence of Edwin, Raedwald raised an army and slew Aethelfrith at the Battle of the River Idle in 616 AD (also known as the battle of Hatfield). Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died at the battle and Edwin became a surrogate son and immediately ascended to the throne of Northumbria initially under Raedwald’s patronage. Taking it from the Pagan Aethelfrith. Edwin eventually converted to Christianity in 627 after surviving an assassination attempt and a war with King Cuichelm of Wessex.

The pivotal moment then was the defeat of the pagan Aethelfrith, leading to the Christianisation of Northumbria, and thus ultimately the later England and eventually the entire British Isles. But where was this Battle? Well, we actually know very little about the Battle of Hatfield. There are a number of places named Hatfield including Hatfield Chase near Doncaster and High Hatfield near Cuckney, Nottinghamshire, and it is in these locations that people have searched for the site of the battle without much success. Hatfield however, is actually recorded as “Haethfelth” which simply means “Heath Field”.

The history of Rainworth goes back to Roman times. The Village originated from The Roman Way, a Roman road, which ran through Mansfield, Rainworth, Newark and on to the Garrison at Lincoln. A Roman Camp was set up by the River Idle there, which is now known as Rainworth Water. A part of the river here became known as “foul evil brook” because the Romans thought that the waters could cure an eye complaint that they knew as “foul evil”. Where the Idle crossed the Roman road, there was a ford (where the river now passes under the road in the centre of the village).

In 616 when Raedwald’s son Raegenhere died by the side of the Idle, Raedwald renamed the river in honour of his son, naming it Regnhere’s wath or Ford, now known as Rainworth Water. The immediate area also became known as Reynwath, Reynethwath, Water of Reynwath, Reynewath, Reynewathford, Raynswathe, Reinwarth Forthe, Rayngwath and finally became known as the Rainworth we have today.

Rainworth water on The Bogs aka Rainworth Heath

So there you have it, the battle of the Idle (Rainworth Water) / Hatfield (Rainworth Heath) was the final nail in the coffin of Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

As a final aside, Edwin was also finally defeated somewhere local (possibly by the river Poulterer) and his fleeing forces managed to get his body to Edwinstowe (which is where it gets its name). Form there his head was taken to York.

The Iron Age broach of Huthwaite

It is a shame that so much archaeological research never sees the light of day, remaining unpublished gathering dust in university libraries. sometimes bits of information are remembered by locals, and they make their way into local history books to be found in the local studies section. One such archaeological dig was at the site of a former Iron Age Hill fort at Strawberry Bank in Huthwaite around 1985.

Among other artefacts recovered, was a supposed Iron Age broach from the time of the Roman Occupation, around the 1st century AD. It is said that the broach was found among a pile of rocks.

At first glance we can see Roman lettering and an 8 spoke wheel. Both of which are quite exciting. The wheel is often associated with Briganti, and this fort would have been right on the edge of the territory of the Brigantes.

The first problem though is that the writing is mirrored, and when you consider the protruding rear surface, I suggest this is more likely a seal than a broach.

Secondly, the cross on the face strongly suggests christian era. Crosses were used in pre-Roman times, but not to the same degree.

Correcting for the reversed letters then, the best I can make out of the inscription is this:

+ S’ : IOHIS’ DE HO

First, I do not believe that this is actually a Roman inscription, but rather a Latin inscription in a Romanesque style similar to this relief

The first two words would appear to be an abbreviation for ‘Sanctus Iohannis’ i.e Saint John, clearly placing this artefact in the christian era. More often than not though you’d expect ‘baptist’ to follow this, but I don’t really see how you could get that from “DE HO”.

Because this could well be a seal stamp, and the S’ could be abbreviating ‘sigillum’ (seal) instead and so read “Seal [of] John….”

The final part of the inscription, “De Ho” is apparently well attested as a surname in Medieval England, see for instance this link http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Ough

This would make the entire inscription:

“Seal [of] John de Ho”

It is unusual to find whole seal stamps intact. They were often broken when the owner died to prevent people forging letters and documents with it. I can only presume then that this seal was probably hidden among this pile of rocks by John De Ho with the intention of returning and retrieving it. Only for what ever reason, he never did.

It is a shame it is not an Iron Age broach, but rather a christian era seal, but at least now we know more about it. As far as I know the “broach” currently resides in Mansfield museum.