so this is my third, and hopefully final post from graveyards for now. I make no apologied though, it is Hallowe’en after all, and this is my Hallowe’en post. I discovered this graveyard today whilst trying to track down a lost holy well. The atmosphere in this place was evocative enough in bright autumn sunshine, and I am nominating this as probably one of the spookiest places you could ever expect to visit on Hallowe’en night. The pictures were taken at Halkyn Old Graveyard in Flintshire, North Wales. The graveyard belonged to the old church. The church was demolished around 1880 when it was replaced with a bigger new church about 100 yards away. At the centre of the graveyard is a rectangular gap on a mound where the church used to stand, and the graves stand around it – memorials both to the dead and to the church yard they once stood in. The graves are remarkably well preserved, there are several from the mid eighteenth century on which the inscriptions are still perfectly legible, and obviously none are more recent than around 1880, since the new church has its own graveyard which takes over from then on. The graveyard must be occasionally maintained, and rough tracks through it show that it is visited regularly. But the degree to which the graves are overgrown, appearing through undergrowth of long grass, ferns and brambles leave the place with an incredibly atmospheric air of gothic gloom and decay. There are many more pictures down there beneath the cut and there is more on my search for the Halkyn Holy Well posted here. http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/st-marys-well-halkyn/
Two consecutive posts concerning graveyards may seem a bit excessive, but hey, we are on the Gothic Heroine page here, and sometimes we have to renew to our gothy credentials.
Anywey, the same day, having visited the pirate grave I was heading home down the A55 and stopped off at the Marble Church at Bodelwyddan.
The marble Church rises high and white, right by the side of the dual carriageway, it stands out for miles around, and is a clear waymarker on the route across the North Welsh coast road. I always judge my progress by it, always look out for it, and had often planned but never actually, until now, stopped to visit.
Walking around the churchyard I was immediately struck by the number of war grave. i have visited the war time cemeteries in France, where the vast number of identical white grave markers bring home the sheer scale of the destruction of life in the first World War in a way that no history book or film ever can.
But, untl now, I had rarely seen anything similar in Britain. i examined the inscriptions and two things immediately struck me, one that nearly all the dead remembered in this cemetary were Canadian but mainly the dates of the deaths. Many of these boys had died in 1919. The war ended in 1918 didn’t it ?
Puzzled, I went back home and headed for google to try and find an explanation. The result was surprising and heartbreaking. Just when you think the stories you hear about the war can get no worse, you realise that in November 1918 they didn’t all just pack their bags and return to some kind of civilian normality. Although winners and losers had been declared, and people had danced in the streets, for many the horrors went on.
Canadian forces were sent to camps, such as Kinmel Camp in North Wales, awaiting repatriation, but this wasn’t an automatic process. The Canadian government had been virtually bankrupted by its involvement in the war, the cost of shipping its forces home was high, and problems at home led to social unrest and strikes back in Canada. Thousands of victorious soldiers were left in Europe, half forgotten and with no hope of immediate repatriation and no idea when it may happen.
Throughout the winter of 1918-19 they were kept in massive camps, food was short, as was fuel for heating.
In 1919, it was filthy, over crowded, had a lack of bedding, soldiers slept on damp earth, food was described as pig swill, and the troops were continually under military order, drilling, parades, forced marches etc despite the majority of them being ‘duration’ men – ie soldiers for the duration of the war. Many resented the fact that newly arrived troops were shipped home earlier, there was also resentment that they had not been given a victory parade, etc.
The 1918 flu pandemic swept through Europe, and was particulalry virulent in these camps. Grave after grave showed boys of 19 and 20, died in January and February 1919, who having survived the horrors of war would have died of flu in the cold mud of North Wales.
But this wasn’t the end. Unrest grew until March of 1919 when the camp rioted.
“The mutineers were our own men, stuck in the mud of North Wales, waiting impatiently to get back to Canada – four months after the end of the war. The 15,000 Canadian troops that concentrated at Kinmel didn’t know about the strikes that held up the fuelling ships and which had caused food shortages. The men were on half rations, there was no coal for the stove in the cold grey huts, and they hadn’t been paid for over a month. Forty-two had slept in a hut meant for thirty, so they each took turns sleeping on the floor, with one blanket each.”
Gallant Protesters – Noel Barber (1975)
During the riots five were killed, and 21 injured. whether the deaths were the result of fighting between soldiers, or the result of attack from troops brought in to quell the fighting was never conclusively determined. These five too are buried in graves close to the memorial in the photos. One soldier, Corporal Joseph Young died as a result of a bayonet wound to the head, his stone states simply , ‘Someday, sometime, we’ll understand’
I never imagined, when I broke my journey in the Autumn sunshine last weekend, that I would uncover the horrors that occurred one autumn and winter almost 100 years ago.
Once again it reinforces my thesis on living in an old country, absolutely whereever you go there is some fascinating history to dig out, good or bad, the passage of time has left no part of these islands untouched.
So, I was visiting a churchyard in North Wales over the weekend. The church was Victorian, but it had been built on the site of a much older church, and many of the gravestones in the churchyard predated the present church.
Right by the front door to the church was what was probably the oldest stone, referred to in the church’s information leaflet as the “pirate grave”.
The description of “pirate grave” obviously derives from the skull and crossed bones, which, due to age and erosion, is all that can be made out of the inscription on the stone today.
Pirate graves are found across the country, the majority of them don’t, and never have, contained pirates. The skull and bones mark are traditional symbols of mortality, reminding the living that they too will one day find themsleves lying under a tombstone. On some stones the skull and crossbones are accompnaied by an hour glass, symbolising the flow of time. The stone I saw has another carving above the skull, which may be an hourglass, it may be the coat of arms of the incumbent or some other decoration, the weathering is to great to make it out clearly.
The skulls and bones are often linked with another frequently found medieval carving or illustration, that of animated skeletons performing the “Dance of Death”.
The skull and crossed bones marks have a long tradition. I have read that they were originally used by the Knights Templar in the early middle Ages as symbols of death and resurrection. After the crusades some of the Knights took up piracy as a living and flew the symbols on their ships as a flag. The marks were also taken up as symbols of free masonery, so maybe the grave occupant may have been a master mason.
Of course, this one may really be a pirate. The church is close to the sea, and pirates had to be buried somewhere. I read once that you could distinguish between real pirates graves and others by the placement of the bones. If they were below the skull then the grave was not that of a a pirate, behind the skull, as in this case, then the remains really were those of a pirate.
But then, weren’t many pirates captured and executed, and if so would they even be allowed burial in a churchyard, yet alone pride of place by the doorway? Would a prirate want to advertise his profession in such a way, did a tailor have shears or a farmer a plough engraved on his tomb? Was it a warning to others to avoid the life of crime, or was it a marking for the future – pirates were buried along with their treasure and this X marked the spot for it to be reclaimed long after the pirates and owners were dead?
These pirate graves, whatever the truth behind the symbolisim, often encourage alternative superstitions to grow up around them. Children playing around the church may invent stories, and these will grow and persist long after those who invented them are gone. Pirates graves are often supposed to be haunted, other pirates graves are special in that there are superstitions in the way you must approach them, bow to them, walk around them three times or whatever to avoid disturbing the unsettled spirit.
Searching around the internet , I have found a few more examples, credit is given where possible, but sorry if I have upset anyones copyright on these.
here are a couple I found visiting Bwlch-y-Cibau church in Powys
One of the joys of living in an old country is that down every lane you can find a site rich with history or folklore. Yesterday, in pouring rain in Flintshire we discovered a small overgrown pond known locally as Pwll-yr-Wrach, or the Witch’s Pool.
The pool is reputedly the haunt of elves, fairies and any other supernatural being. Local folklorist Richard Holland writes:
Clear, still and peaceful on a summer’s day, this pool has a sinister reputation. According to legend, strange beings live beneath its waters. One early winter’s morning in 1852, a farm labourer is said to have suffered a fatal encounter with one of these beings.
John Roberts had just stepped out of his cottage door to begin his day’s work when he found his path blocked by an unfamiliar youth. He spoke to the boy but, on receiving no response, he tried to brush past him. The youth grabbed Roberts and in an instant the terrified man found himself hurtling through the air.
In just a few seconds they reached the shore of Pwll-yr-Wrach and his unearthly captor forced Roberts’s face to a few inches above the surface of the water and held him there in an iron grip.
Struggling, Roberts heard a cock crow from a nearby farm and suddenly found himself released. The boy stood above him, eyeing him passively.
"When the cuckoo sings its first note on Flint Mountain I shall come again to fetch you," said the boy, and then he vanished.
John Roberts died the following May. He had been carrying out some building repairs at Penyglyn on the Mountain when a wall fell and crushed him. A young woman who had witnessed the accident said that it happened just as she noted a cuckoo come to rest on a nearby tree.
She added that when the body was being carried away to Roberts’s home, the cuckoo had followed, singing from tree to tree all the way to his front door…
It is suggested that the current, widely repeated, version of the story is taken from the 1910 novel Howell Gwynedd by Gwilym Bellys, although it clearly does find some basis in fact. It is reported that a builder was crushed by a falling wall in the 1850s, although some accounts suggest it was actually John Robert’s father.
There are a number of suggestions around for why the pool gained its name. Bellys’ novel links the pool with a witch called Malid Malwod, however Bellys mixes up dates and people, moving them in time and describes Mali’s relationship with Robin Ddu, an Anglesey poet and "wizard" who, apart from this story, has no links with Flint.
Another story suggests that once when Henry VII was hunting in the area and one of his soldiers drowned an old woman in the pond believing she was a witch, and yet another that a tree beside the pool was once used for hanging witches.
However, the evidence is that, although witch hunts, accusations and trials occurred all over Britain, and there were probably occasional accusations made and summary justice taken in most counties, there are few records of accusations of witchcraft in Flintshire and little evidence of organised trials in the area. Wrach also translates as “hag”, and if the pool is named after an old woman who once lived close by then that is probably a sufficient explanation. As soon as a site gains such a name superstitions are bound to become attached.
The little pond is a gloomy spot, apparently very deep and despite the fact that these days the roar of traffic from the nearby A55 is never too distant, it remains the perfect setting for superstition and mystery. Attached to the oak tree overhanging the pool are flowers and a verse, apparently a tribute, to a local woman who died in 2005, which are regularly refreshed and renewed by her husband.
Pwll-yr-Wrach, Flint Mountain.
On a narrow slice of land between the A525 to Ruthin and the B5341 to nowhere in particular; we found the remains of Tomen y Rhodwydd. No visitors centre, no interpretation boards, no signs marked the glorious remains of this castle, and cars raced on oblivious to the history flying past their windows.
We climbed through a holey rusted metal gate, and crossed a small field of rather sad looking sheep, being followed all the way by an incredibly tame and friendly little lamb. Through another gate tied up with string were the castle remains. Once home to Owain Gwynedd, Prince of Gwynedd from 1137 to 1190, was now home to nothing more than another flock of sheep.
What remains are the earthworks from a massive 12th century Motte and Bailey castle – the scale of the manmade hill from moat to keep is still impressive, and from the top the massive area enclosed by the outer walls can be appreciated.
Owain Gwynedd succeeded his father to a kingdom that covered much of North Wales, his reign marked a period of peace and learning in North Wales. Owain naturally was involved in warefare, he was forced to defend his territory against a number of onslaughts from Henry II and the English, and at the same time was able to extend his own territory to the east. Owain tried to negotiate with Louis VII of France, and could have set up a powerful Franco-Welsh axis. Under owain churches and monasteries developed He left behind himself a reputation of wisdom and magnanimity.
The sad thing was that his sons who succeeded him returned the region to warfare, they disagreed, split the kingdom between them and thus weakened the ability of Gwynedd to protect itself against the English. Owain was one of the great rulers of independent Wales, and it’s sad that his home here at Tomen y Rhodwydd, that 900 years ago must have been a place of learning, of feasting, of gallantry, of warfare, is now just a sheep fold on the road to Ruthin.
North Wales has so many fabulous castles, we think of Conwy, Harlech and Caernarvon, but for all those under the protection of CADW or the National Trust, with their guidebooks and ice creams, there are so many more, just as grand, just as important, but almost totally forgotten.