August 5 – Fulford and Shipton-under-Wychwood

Wool Bale Tombs and Millenium Embroidery of The Old Prebendal House

Hi from 1066 – Medieval Mosaic

For the last few days we have been going past the Fulbrook Church on our way home every evening but today we decided to call in. There is no church micro here but again it needs one. The church was open so we went in to see St James the Great church. It had some rather nice wall paintings and stained glass windows and some wool bale tombs. The bale tombs are really interesting.

Bale tombs are a variation on the basic chest tomb, found in the Cotswolds and the Windrush Valley in particular. Most date from circa 1660-1700 and are found in the ‘wool-Gothic’ churches of that region. The name ‘bale tomb’ is derived from the semicircular top, usually incised either side-to-side straight across or sometimes diagonally in a screw-type pattern. These incisions are commonly thought to represent tied-up bales of cloth, and so the tombs mark the last resting place of a wool merchant’s family. The tomb ends were usually carved with a skull in a scallop shell, and this ‘memento mori’ gives rise to another theory — that the tomb tops represent a corpse wrapped in a woollen shroud.

There was a time in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when it was a law that coffins had to be lined in wool and the shroud had also to be made from wool. Within eight days of the burial, an affidavit then had to be sworn by a relative with two witnesses in front of a magistrate that the corpse “was not put in, wrapped up or wound up, or buried, in any shirt, shift, sheet, or shroud made or mingled with flax, hemp, silk, hair etc etc”. The penalty for non-compliance was £5, equivalent to approximately £700 today.

At St Mary the Virgin in Shipton-under-Wychwood we were especially interested in the Millenium Tapestry made by the residents of the Old Prebendal House which is now a retirement and nursing home. The manor of Sciptone was mentioned in the Domesday Book and in 1126 Henry I granted the church to Salisbury Cathedral. Tithes of hay, grain and wool were sent and gathered by the Prebendary. The first Prebendary was Humphrey, son of Arnulf the Falconer. The first house was built in the late 13th or early 14th century as an open hall with a central hearth lit by tall gothic windows. A wooden tithe barn dated between 135o and 1400 preceded the present stone barn.

The Millenium stained glass window by Patrick Reyntiens OBE is also rather wonderful. It was dedicated on 31st October 2004 and made possible by a legacy and other donations. The window was inspired by the quote from St Matthews gospel Chapter 28 ‘Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciplines’