29 March 2015

Best British design ever?

I’m not sure everyone would agree with this choice, particularly as the survey only included 2000 of Britain’s estimated 64.1 million people, but last week the instigators of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Great British Design Study announced that the classic red telephone box had been chosen as the Best British Design ever.

At Port Sunlight

Professor Catherine McDermott, a design expert and Director of the Curating Contemporary Design Research Group at Kingston University, was commissioned by Samsung to conduct the study as a way of celebrating the launch of their latest smartphone. McDermott and a panel of judges created a longlist which the select 2000 then voted upon.

The first British telephone box (the K1) was a concrete construction, built in 1920, but the vibrant red phone box the Brits know and love resulted from a series of design competitions held in 1923-24. The winning design, officially known as the K2 (K for kiosk), was the brainchild of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, architect of such diverse structures as Liverpool Cathedral, the Battersea Power Station and Waterloo Bridge, though Scott had intended his phone box to be painted silver. The iconic vibrant red, officially known as ‘currant red’, was chosen instead, to make the boxes easy to spot.

Phone boxes at Arley, at Knutsford (decorated for Christmas 2014) and at Pickmere
Over the years, the phone box design morphed from the K2 (made in cast iron) to a K3 (also designed by Scott but built of concrete) to a K4 (an unsuccessful attempt to add a postage stamp dispenser on the outside – the noise disrupted phone calls and the stamps got damp) to a K5 (a plywood model for exhibition use only) to the K6 (designed in 1935 to commemorate the silver jubilee of George V and mass produced). In 1940 there were 35,000 K6s in Britain. By 1980, there were 73,000!

The book exchange at Great Budworth

From 1926 onwards, the fascias of the kiosks were emblazoned with a prominent crown, representing the British government. From 1935 to 1952 the Tudor Crown was used, the emblem of King George V’s Silver Jubilee, then from 1952 onwards, the emblem changed to St Edward’s Crown, the actual crown used at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In Scotland, from 1955, the Crown of Scotland was used.

Initially, all the crowns were painted the same red as the boxes themselves but, from the early 1990s, the crowns have been highlighted with gold paint.

With the advent and subsequent popularity of mobile phones the old red telephone boxes are fast disappearing, though in some places they are also being repurposed. The one I found in the little Cheshire village of Great Budworth is now a tiny community book exchange and other alternate uses include a miniature art gallery in Settle, Yorkshire, the world’s smallest pub at Shepreth in Cambridgeshire, and a place to house a defibrillator in the village of Glendaruel in Argyll. For the bargain price of £2250 (excluding delivery), you can buy a K6 phone box and create your very own library or art gallery or bar or …

At Plumley
Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the rest of that Best British Design list, here are the top 25:

1. Red Phone Box (K Series)
2. Routemaster Double Decker Bus
3. Union Jack
4. Spitfire
5. Rolls Royce
6. London Taxi
7. Tube Map
8. Mini Cooper
9. Concorde
10. Red Pillar Box
11. Jaguar E-Type
12. Aston Martin DB5
13. Miniskirt
14. London Eye
15. Double Helix DNA structure
16. Wembley Stadium
17. First Class Postage Stamp
18. Dr Martens
19. Angel of the North
20. Wellington Boots
21. London 2012 Olympic Torch
22. Tartan Print
23. Burberry Trench Coat
24. Saville Row Suit
25. Fred Perry Polo Shirt

25 March 2015

A celebration of trees: March: Forests

Saturday 21 March was the 2015 International Day of Forests so this month I celebrate that conglomeration of trees and undergrowth we variously label a forest, jungle, woods or woodland or, in my native New Zealand, bush.

Delamere Forest
If anyone needs convincing as to why we need to stop deforestation and create more forests around the world, here are some of the reasons:

Royd Wood, Tabley
ü              Forests are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on our land masses.

ü              Forests provide a home to more than 80% of our terrestrial species of plants, insects and animals.

ü              Forests protect the watersheds that provide 75% of the world’s fresh water.

ü              Forests play a vital part in our adaptation to and prevention of global climate change.

ü              Forests provide shelter and jobs to forest-dependant communities.

ü              More than one billion people around the world depend on forests and trees for their food and income.

ü              Forests are the earth’s lungs, contributing to the balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and humidity in the air.

ü              Each year every person in the world eats about 11kg of food from forests (leaves, fruit, mushrooms, honey, etc).

ü              Forests and trees are the source of many medicines, treating illnesses like malaria, heart disease and cancer.

 As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, ‘To build a sustainable, climate-resilient future for all, we must invest in our world's forests. That will take political commitment at the highest levels, smart policies, effective law enforcement, innovative partnerships and funding.’  

Wood near Gravestones Farm, Pickmere

We are blessed with some lovely forests and woodlands near where I’m currently living, in the English county of Cheshire, so I am fortunate indeed to be able to walk regularly through these magical places. The Japanese have a term for walking in the woods that I particularly like – it’s shinrin yoku, which literally means ‘forest bathing’. I think the world would be a much better place if we all bathed regularly in forests.

Woodlands at Tatton Park, Knutsford
A new planting at Spud Wood, near Lymm

Woodland near Comberbach

Holford Moss, near Plumley
Arboretum at Marbury Country Park, near Northwich

Mill Wood, Arley

22 March 2015

British birds: the birds of Marbury Country Park

Marbury Country Park, near Northwich, is one of my favourite places and I am a frequent visitor. Based on the former landscaped parkland that surrounded Marbury Hall, the woodland that nestles so prettily alongside Budworth Mere has been redeveloped as a public park for all to enjoy. Trails snake through pretty wooded areas, meander alongside the Trent and Mersey canal and border the clear waters of the mere, affording the stroller many an opportunity to observe the local bird life. There are also two bird hides, where both the dedicated twitchers and the casual observer can enjoy the birds that flock to the well-stocked, oft-replenished feeders.

I have spent many a happy hour, smiling at the acrobatics of nuthatches, as they bicker with blue tits over seeds, and admiring the tenacity of woodpeckers, as they battle to extract a fat, nourishing peanut from behind the wire netting of a feeder. These are some of my avian friends from Marbury.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis)
I am a huge fan of this little sparrow-like bird. It may look rather drab but its sex life is anything but. It may have an incredibly short copulation time, of a fraction of a second, but it more than makes up for that by being the most frequent fornicator of Britain’s small birds, recorded at once or twice an hour for a 10-day period! What’s more, it frequently dabbles in polygyny, polyandry and polygynandry. It seems that by mating with two or more males a female not only increases the diversity of the breed, she also helps to prevent rival males from destroying her eggs and encourages more than one male to feed her ravenous offspring. Smart female!

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
Though a shy bird by nature, the jay’s colouring is anything but. With a vivid blue patch on its wings, a body of dusky pink, pretty little black-and-white stripes atop its head and what looks remarkably like a black moustache, this bird is chic. No surprise then that ‘Jay’ was once used, somewhat sneeringly, to describe a flashy dresser.

Like most members of the crow family, the jay can be loud and noisy, and an excellent mimic. As well as copying other birds, they’ve been known to imitate the sounds of cats, dogs and even telephones. Some of their actions even mimic squirrels – they bury large quantities of acorns and show incredible skill at remembering where they’ve buried their hordes.

Jay, at left, and nuthatch, on the right

Nuthatch (Sittidae)
Nuthatches are frequently to be seen upside down, scrambling down a tree trunk or hanging from a bird feeder while pecking urgently to extract their favourite nuts and seeds. And they seem never to keep still, so I’ve yet to get a really sharp photo of one.

As their name implies, they love nuts and, like squirrels and jays, they frequently stash nuts in chinks and crevices. This can cause problems for homeowners – I read one story of a nuthatch burying seeds in the cracks between patio pavers and in potted plants. If the bird didn’t return for all its buried food, the homeowners got its (unwanted) treasure of sprouting trees, shrubs and sunflowers.

Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
As its name implies, the Reed Bunting is most at home in the reed beds and rush-filled pastures that surround many of Britain’s freshwater lakes and ponds, though it has been encroaching on farmlands and into woodlands during the last 80-odd years, perhaps in response to a reduction in its preferred wetland habitats. Luckily, at Marbury, it is flourishing in the expanses of reed beds that fringe Budworth Mere.

Mrs Reed Bunting on the left and Mr Reed Bunting on the right

Another male Reed Bunting

Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)
The Treecreeper (above and left) is one of the most inconspicuous of Britain’s common birds. Due to its extremely effective camouflage-like colouring it is almost impossible to see when stationary and it’s only if you focus your gaze on a tree trunk that you notice it’s scuttling creep upwards in search of the tiny insects that inhabit the crevices in a tree’s bark. On the left, you should just be able to see the tiny woodlouse it has in its beak. These little birds are usually solitary creatures but are known to participate in communal foraging parties with other small birds during the winter months.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
Britain has four types of woodpeckers – though I’ve heard the percussive efforts of some of the others, tap-tap-tapping on tree trunks in the woods, this is the only one I’ve actually seen. You can see why – it’s bright, bold colours make it easy to spot. It’s a speedy flier though, so I’m lucky it’s attracted to the free peanut supply in the bird feeders at Marbury.

As well as nuts and a broad range of other dietary preferences, ranging from peas and grains to suet, these woodpeckers also have some less pleasant eating habits. They are known to raid the nests of other birds, taking both eggs and chicks to feed their own young. It’s a bird-eat-bird world!

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Though I found these chaffinches in a woodland setting, they are equally at home in urban gardens, as long as there are trees around. Mr Chaffinch’s multi-hued plumage is particularly dapper, and is the reason why the expression ‘as gay as a chaffinch’ was used for a well-dressed and vivacious person, in the days before ‘gay’ acquired a rather different meaning. I think Mrs Chaffinch looks every inch the stylish tweed-wearing countrywoman as well.

Chaffinches are prolific singers, so much so that Brits used to hold contests to determine which bird could sing best and longest. The Avicultural Magazine of 1896 (vol.2, pp.115-17) has a wonderful story about the contest between ‘Shoreditch Bobby’ of Bricklane and the ‘Kingsland Roarer’, organised by the landlord of the ‘Cock and Bottle’ pub in London and, as the Chaffinch is the last but by no means the least bird in this blog post, I have reproduced most of the article here for those who, as I do, love a good story

In the parlour all the gas-jets are lighted, but have some trouble to penetrate the fumes of tobacco, beer, etc. At last the contesting parties enter, each dressed in his Sunday best. …The two markers take their places, and as the clock strikes the two cages are uncovered and hung up. The battlers look around for a moment, shake their plumage, whet their beaks and one may take a grain of seed, but before it is cracked he hears a familiar sound uttered by his opponent. Immediately he replies by a full strophe of his song, to which the other answers with fuller power. Before each marker is already a stroke of his chalk, and now the combat is fairly ‘started’. The chalks are busily employed to mark each properly delivered strophe, and keep pace with each other for a time, until ‘Bobby’ takes it into his head to betake himself to the food trough.

Meanwhile, the ‘Roarer’ continues steadily to pour out his heart, and gains considerably in chalk marks. ‘Costermonger Joe’ is getting very uneasy and cannot understand this ‘trick’ of his much-renowned bird. Never before did he think of food while in the presence of an opponent. In order to draw his bird’s attention upon himself and from the food trough, he moves uneasily in his seat and ventures at last to cough aloud.

It must be understood, that while a match is proceeding no words of encouragement are allowed; no whistling or other means may be resorted to, to recall a truant to his duty. Fair play is rigorously enforced. Coughing cannot be stopped.

At last, Joe can stand it no longer: accidentally his beer glass gets knocked over and falls on the floor with much clatter. Bobby peers across the room to ascertain the cause of the unusual disturbance and catches sight of his master, and immediately he resumes his battle-cry. The ruse has succeeded, although there is a tumbler to pay for.

The chalk marks on the tables are getting very numerous. The Roarer has challenged without a fault for thirteen minutes and is forty points ahead of Bobby, but now he feels rather ‘dry’. He stops working, takes a drink of water and hops to the food box. But ‘Kingsland Bill’ does not give his bird time to lose ground by feeding like the other. In a moment he whips out the brightly-coloured handkerchief the Roarer knows so well, and pretends to wipe the perspiration from his anxious brow. His finch takes the hint, and gallops through the remaining two minutes of the appointed fifteen in grand style. Bobby also had tried hard to make up for the precious time he had lost so wantonly, but could not recover all of it. Although credited with 212 marks, the Roarer beat him by 28 strokes.

Immediately protest is entered by Costermonger Joe, fair play having been violated by the use of the coloured cloth. Bill retorts by calling into question the fairness of the beer glass episode. One word leads to another, the spectators mingle in the strife, expressions of opinion and sympathy with either party are getting more and more select, and battle of another kind seems imminent. Joseph declares he has won, but William insists on ‘fighting’ him for the stakes. This mode of settling the question being declined by Joe, the landlord is called upon to exercise his functions of umpire. With characteristic disinterestedness he declares the whole match null and void, and orders a fresh match to be sung for the same stakes that day week and on the same spot.

Many of the fact-lets for this blog post came from that most excellent publication, Birds Britannica, Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, Chatto & Windus, London, 2005.

19 March 2015

Cheshire: pubs and their signs 5

‘Roll out the barrel we’ll have a barrel of fun.
Roll out the barrelwe’ve got the blues on the run.
Zing! Boom! Tarrarel! Ring out a song of good cheer.
Now’s the time to roll the barrel – for the gang’s all here.’

So, as Len Brown wrote in his 1940’s song lyrics, if the gang’s all here, let’s roll out the barrel on yet another pub signs blog.

The Fox and Barrel, Cotebrook
Luckily I came across local historian Tony Bostock’s most thorough account of this pub’s history when I was researching this fabulous sign from a traditional country pub in Cotebrook, a little hamlet just north of Tarporley on the A49.

Bostock writes that The Fox and Barrel:  

has been in existence as a public house since at least 1770, and as a property possibly a century before that. This public house was once owned by the Earl of Shrewsbury, then by Greenalls, and is now in private ownership.
Folk lore has it that the name derives from a tale that a former landlord let a fox which was being pursued by huntsmen escape to the cellar where it sat upon one of the barrels. It’s said that a heavy flat stone marked the opening into the cellar where the fox entered the premises. It seems that the name of this house first occurs in the early nineteenth century. A map of the area which formed an appendix to the Act of Parliament for the enclosing of parts of Delamere Forest, dated 1812, shows “The Fox and Barrel”. …
The name may go back further but how far is uncertain. It clearly alludes to foxhunting which as such did not begin in Cheshire until after 1762, the year after the Tarporley Hunt Club was founded.

From Joan P. Alcock's book Cheshire Inn Signs
The Stretton Fox, Stretton
Here’s another fox, though I think the name is pure invention. The pub’s own website notes: ‘Sat on the grounds of the old Sparke House, the architectural style of the building suggests that the Stretton Fox was built in the early 1900s’, but the Stretton village website reports that Spark Hall Farm house was built in 1846-47.

Though The Fox still has an excellent sign, the previous one was wonderfully unique. As you can see from the image here (taken from Joan P. Alcock's book Cheshire Inn Signs), it was painted in a cartoon style and showed a smirking fox, sitting upright alongside two very bright-eyed rabbits. The fox was attempting to disguise himself by wearing false rabbit ears, a bunny’s bobtail and two protruding front teeth. What a shame the new sign didn’t emulate the humour of the earlier one.

The Ring o’ Bells, Stretton
Ring o’ Bells is a relatively common name amongst English pubs – they are usually located close to churches and often frequented by bellringers – campanology must be thirsty work!

This particular Ring o’ Bells is nowhere near a church so it came as no surprise to discover that this is not the pub’s original name. Alcock notes that the pub was converted from a row of cottages in the 19th century [Joan P. Alcock, Cheshire Inn Signs, The History Press, Stroud, 2008, p.94] and the excellent Stretton community website reports that the pub was originally The Rose and Crown, then changed to The Crown Inn around 1851, before becoming The Ring o’ Bells at some later date. The website notes that 1845 tithe maps show Peter Nicholson of Thelwall Hall was landowner of a house licensed as a ‘Beer Shop and Garden’ on this site and gives details of landlords and occupants in subsequent census lists.

From Joan P. Alcock's book Cheshire Inn Signs
The Coachman, Hartford
As the pub’s name clearly suggests, The Coachman was once a coaching inn, one of the staging posts on the Chester Turnpike and a vital transfer point for passengers from Chester, Tarporley, Northwich and Knutsford who wanted to catch the train to London – Hartford Railway Station is directly across the road. The Coachman’s own website says the premises, which were built in the 1830s, have ‘stabling for 51 horses, a blacksmith’s shop, a harness room, a store room, a riding school, paddocks and 15 acres of land.’ 

The Grand Junction Railway, which opened on 4 July 1837 and ran for 82 miles from Birmingham to Warrington, was one of the earliest railway lines in Britain, and Hartford Station was one of the only ‘first-class’ stations along its route. Not surprisingly, The Coachman’searlier names reflected its proximity to the railway: it was originally the Hartford Station Inn, changed to the Railway Inn in 1891, became the Station Hotel in 1903 and then changed to its present name in 1971. Sadly, the previous pub sign, which showed a coachman driving a coach with four horses (see image at right), has been replaced with a boring, non-descript text-only version which reflects none of the pub’s colourful history. I do so wish pub owners would realise what an important part of local heritage their pub signs are.

The Old Broken Cross, Rudheath
I expected to discover a tale of Christianity spurned when I researched this pub name but, according to Joan P Alcock’s book Cheshire Inn Signs (The History Press, Stroud, 2008), The Old Broken Cross has no such history. She believes the building was originally two or three cottages and surmises that, because they are not lined up parallel to the neighbouring Trent and Mersey Canal, they predate the canal’s construction in 1777. The canny owner obviously saw the earning potential of a canal-side pub, serving as an alehouse to the watermen and providing stabling at the side of the pub for the canal horses, and so the pub was opened the same year as the canal.

The Old Broken Cross

The Swan Inn, Wybunbury
The Swan Inn is the one public house in this blog post that I can personally recommend, for its delightful ambience, its hearty and delicious fare, its friendly staff, and the piano in the ladies toilet. I kid you not! And the staff told me that, on nights when the pub starts to rock, the external door to the ladies gets left open and the piano gets played and a rousing sing-along is enjoyed by all. It sounds like great fun and I can just imagine the sore heads the next morning.

Dating from the 17th century but altered and extended in the early 19th and in the 20th centuries, The Swan is a traditional country pub. The depiction of a swan on a pub sign can be a heraldic device but, in Cheshire, the swan is usually an indication that the birds live, or once lived, in the local area.

Wybunbury is an interesting place to visit. Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve sits right behind the pub and makes for an interesting walk, and adjacent to the pub is the ‘Leaning Tower of Cheshire’, which, due to its unstable foundations, is all that now remains of the 15th-century Church of St Chad’s. From experience, I can tell you that a refreshment stop at The Swan makes the perfect end to an exploratory walk around the town!  


13 March 2015

The Year of the Sheep

Unless someone’s pulled the wool over your eyes, you’ll know that we’ve recently celebrated the start of the Chinese Year of the Sheep (or Goat or Ram, depending on your interpretation). Just like the rest of the flock, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check my Chinese horoscope and it seems – surprise, surprise! – this year I will be happy to lie down in a field, blade of grass in my mouth, as I watch the clouds go by.

Of course, coming from a country where sheep outnumber people by 7 to 1 (and that ratio used to be much much higher, at 20:1) and where roast lamb with mint sauce is the national dish, I can’t help but relate to sheep. Not only have they featured in our national culture from the beginning of New Zealand’s European history, sheep have also figured highly in my personal history.

My Scottish ancestors were some of the first shepherds on the high country sheep stations of New Zealand’s South Island, and one of my English great-great-great-grandfathers, an early immigrant to the Antipodes, even wrote a small publication entitled New Zealand versus the World as a Long Wool Producing Country: Comprising a table of calculations, explanatory remarks and data. By a Practical Sheepbreeder of English and Colonial Experience.

Given this background, it should come as no surprise, then, to learn that not only do I love knitting, I also take a lot of photographs of sheep. And what better way to share some of those photographs than to accompany them with some quotes by famous people, involving – you guessed it! – sheep!

Though the folks quoted below are infinitely more eloquent than I am, I do have one piece of advice for you – bookmark this blog! You may not share my affection for my woolly friends but, when the stresses and strains of daily life are weighing you down and you find yourself unable to sleep, you can at least return here and lull yourself to sleep by counting my sheep!

‘It's better to be a lion for a day than a sheep all your life.’ ~ Elizabeth Kenny

‘Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.’ ~ Winston Churchill

‘Geographically, Ireland is a medium-sized rural island that is slowly but steadily being consumed by sheep.’ ~ Dave Barry

‘In order to be an immaculate member of a flock of sheep, one must above all be a sheep oneself.’ ~ Albert Einstein

‘To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.’ ~ Mahatma Gandhi

‘To create man was a quaint and original idea, but to add the sheep was tautology.’ ~ Mark Twain

‘If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.’ ~ George Washington

‘Men are like sheep, of which a flock is more easily driven than a single one.’ ~ Richard Whately

‘Better to live one year as a tiger, than a hundred as a sheep.’ ~ Madonna

11 March 2015

Cheshire churches: St Mary’s in Great Budworth and St Oswald’s of Lower Peover

One of the lanes I regularly walk follows an ancient footpath used by local parishioners to commute between two historic places of worship, the mother church of St Mary and All Saints in Great Budworth and one of her parochial chapelries, St Oswald’s Church in Lower Peover, a walk of about six miles.

St Mary and All Saints, Great Budworth

In Saxon times … the huge but thinly populated parish of Great Budworth … stretched all the way to Lower Peover and Allostock. It is likely that burial of the dead took place in Lower Peover at an early date, but baptisms and marriages were for a long time conducted only at Great Budworth. The natural way from Peover to the parish church would be following the course of the Peover Eye [a stream], itself probably a highway in heavily forested Celtic times. … The church at Lower Peover dates from the 13th century and the font for baptism dates from 1322, but it was not until about 1570 that St Oswald’s was licensed for marriages. Up until then, wedding parties would have to walk (or the wealthier ones ride on horseback) along this path.

The churchyard at St Mary and All Saints

This imposing building is one of the largest parish churches in the Diocese of Chester and the mother church of the rural Deanery of Great Budworth. There has been a religious presence on this site since at least the late eleventh century, as a priest is mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but the building we see today dates from the fourteenth, fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, when the church was considerably enlarged. 

Once the property of the Augustinian Canons of Norton Priory, the church was taken over by Puritan ministers preaching radical Protestantism during the sixteenth-century Reformation and then changed again, to Anglicanism, during the seventeenth century.

One of the things that fascinates me about this, and many other old churches, is the proliferation of heads adorning the walls, both inside and outside the building. As you can see from the photos, some are realistic (perhaps the personifications of biblical figures used to educate the illiterate), others fantastical (like the grimaces of sinners sentenced to an eternity of hellfire and damnation, intended as a warning to the parishioners). Amongst the many treasures contained in St Mary’s, there is also the rather worn and much-graffitied alabaster effigy of the Sir John Warburton who died in 1575, one of the Warburtons of Arley Hall who owned much of Great Budworth from 1469 right through to the 1940s. 

The entrance to St Mary and All Saints

St Oswald's

Though the half-timbered part of the building and the sandstone tower were built in the 1500s, there has been a church on this site in Lower Peover (pronounced Peever) since at least 1269 when Richard Grosvenor of Hulme Hall built a Chapel of Ease here. Though the aisles were altered and reroofed in the 1850s, the building is still an outstanding example of a medieval oak-framed church, and it also contains sixteenth-century furnishings and all manner of old relics, statues and plaques.

One item that particularly caught my eye was a huge old wooden chest, measuring 6 feet long by 2 feet wide, lying on the floor in the south aisle. Above the chest was a sign:

The ancient dug-out chest was brought here from Norton Priory in 1269 for the safe keeping of vestments, plate and books. It is just the trunk of some mighty oak, roughly hewn out, and bound with wrought-iron bands. The four padlocks are of later date, and testify of the days of the four churchwardens, each of whom had a key, so that the ‘safe’ could not be opened unless all four were present. … Legend has it that any maiden who aspired to dignity of a farmer’s wife should first prove her worthiness by throwing back the lid with one hand.

Looking at the chest, the maidens must have been extremely strong in days gone by as that lid must weigh a ton! The church website explains, ‘It is believed that this tale originated because it was said that a farmer’s wife in those days needed to be strong enough to be able to lift the famous Cheshire cheeses made in the area.’ 

Just as the chest is a silent witness to the history of this holy place, so are the headstones in the surrounding graveyard, a well kept and peaceful haven that was also interesting to explore. The antiquity of some of the gravestones fascinated me and led me to wonder about the stories of the people buried there. What a wonderfully tranquil place to spend eternity!