The Crypt

Crypts are thought to originate from the catacombs in Rome where they provided places for worship and burial. These Norman crypts imitate that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the goal of many a crusader.

The irregular octagon of Berkswell's western crypt has a vaulted roof and is connected to the eastern crypt by an arch. Whilst this is a fine example of a Norman crypt it is as well to remember that the Anglo Saxons had themselves built crypts of a of similar design. It has been said that "crypts in England are memorials of Saxon churches".

In 1881 Jethro Cossins and the then Rector H W Watson dug down through the floor to find some Saxon stonework which they conjectured was probably the base for a Saxon tomb for some revered person or the base for a baptistery. If it was a Saxon crypt it was rebuilt to its present form by the Normans in the 12th century.

In the 19th century the crypt was used as a family vault for the Lords of the Manor. In the 21st century it is occasionally used for baptisms, small services and from time to time as an art gallery.

Crypt font

The font made from Caen stone was part of a set of three stone works, a font, a lectern and a pulpit. They were given in memory of the Rev Thomas Cattell who died in 1835. He also left money for the maintenance of the North aisle gallery which he had had erected. The font is the only legacy left of the Rev Cattell. In 1926 the north gallery was deemed to unsafe and was demolished. Also in 1926 a new pulpit was donated (see Nave hotspot) and soon thereafter carved wood work replaced the stone pulpit, font and lectern. No church could be found that wanted a font and the instructions were that it was to be broken up and buried in consecrated ground; then the churchwarden had the bright idea of putting it in the crypt. Very occasionally the font in the Crypt is still used for baptisms (Gibbs pg 18).

The Rev Thomas Cattell was Rector of Berkswell from 1791 to 1834. He was a keen huntsman and said that eloquence came best to him when in the saddle. He therefore had a ”hobby horse stool” made to sit on in the pulpit the better to preach his sermons.

Saxon sandstones and Saxon foundation stones

In 1967 worked stones were found behind the walls of the crypt and were thought to be of Saxon origin. However archeologist/historian Dr John Hunt observed in 2014 that these stones are not definitively those of Saxon craftsmen. The exposed stonework near the arch between the two parts of the crypt is decorated by a string line, a characteristic that is usually found on exterior walls. For this reason Dr John Hunt suggested (in 2014) that the first build of the Norman church was the base of the rectangular crypt to form a free standing church, with this piece of stonework forming part of the exterior wall.

The nearby Well could have influenced the location of the present church. Such reliable flows of quality water in the midst of forested areas were often the site of holy Saxon shrines. Augustine had instructed the missionaries who came to England to use the existing places of worship and pagan shrines were often replaced by christian crosses. The Well would have provided a suitable location for total immersion baptism which was popular in early times.

It is conjectured that the name Berkswell was derived from “Bercul's Well”.1 Bercul was a leader in these parts at this time. Perhaps it was the Bercul who was a signatory in 749AD to a document drawn up by King Ethalbald of Mercia. Ethalbald had behaved, according to Pope Boniface, with such "dissolute and irreligious acts" that he was threatened with excommunication and thus to an afterlife of everlasting hell. An intimidated King Ethalbald gathered other leaders in Mercia, including Bercul, and agreed to grant the church in Mercia indemnity from any forms of service or taxation. “until the end of the world”.2Mercia was the Saxon kingdom within which Berkswell lay.

1. English Place-Name Society
2. See http://www.anglosaxondocs.org

Pilgrim doors

Tucked away behind the lectern and the pulpit in the nave are two small wooden doors that lead in to passages which go down inside the thick walls in to the Crypt. The arrangement of these doors indicates that they were built to accommodate numbers of pilgrims, with one door to enter the small space below and the other to exit. This arrangement was frequently used following several disasters in Holland where overcrowding whilst visiting relics had caused deaths by crushing.

Up until the reformation in the 16th century, large numbers of pilgrims traveled surprising distances to visit the tomb, or relic, of a particular saint. Dugdale in the 17th century mentions St Mildred as having been buried at Berkswell, and relics of this saint may have been placed in the crypt. Similarly, Leland, writing in 1535-43 about the 8th century, says “St Mildred was buried at Berkswell about 7 (Roman) miles from Warwick”.1

It is not altogether clear who this St Mildred was. There was a very good man living near by, Mildred, Bishop of Worcester 743-775, but he was never canonised. Perhaps Leland meant St Mildred, Abbess of Minster in Thanet who died about 725. Her remains, which were moved from time to time, were held in great veneration. As she was related to the Kings of Mercia (wherein Berkswell lay) it is possible that Ethalbald of Mercia obtained a small relic to establish Berkswell as a place of pilgrimage and provide an income for the church. While the crypt was an exceptionally fine and large one, and the passage ways typical of shrines holding relics of saints, it does not appear to have proved a popular destination for pilgrims – the steps are not worn, and other references regarding a shrine to St Mildred at St John Baptist have not come to light.

The crypt passage ways were exposed in 2013, and they are now visible from the crypt through wrought iron doors designed and donated by Alastair and Ann Dymond.

1. Berkswell Through a Looking Glass... DE Gibbs pp 9-10

News feed

Parkland
Friday 19th July 2013
Ram Hall
Wednesday 10th July 2013
Blind Hall
Wednesday 10th July 2013

A description in Victoria County History tell us that 'the lower rooms have chamfered ceiling beams. A central chimney-stack has a ten foot fireplace towards the east wing. The fore-court is entered by a gateway having brick posts with moulded and ball heads of red sandstone. A barn, chiefly of red brickwork dated 1735, with the initials E and DP has a few older timbers in the roof and gable-heads.

The name Blind Hall is used in the 1841 Census Return located on Blind Lane an old coaching road and also used to transport stones form Quarry Field behind Blind Hall.

The ownership of Blind Hall can be traced back to the 1600s. The first document dated 20th October 1606, is called a 'Deed for quiet enjoyment' Thomas Bysshop of Berkswell surrendered to Henry Palmer of Solihull, gentleman, for £330 the house and land. The property remained in the possession of the Palmer family until 1782 when it passed to Lord of the Manor, Sir John Eardley Wilmot. In 1832 the Brown family came to the farm as tenants, their descendants staying until after the Second World War.

For further information on Blind Hall please refer to:
Berkswell Miscellany Vol IV Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group 1988. This manuscript is

Berkswell Hall
Thursday 13th June 2013

Berkswell Hall

The Manor of Berkswell dates from the late medieval period. In 1600s Samuel Marrow built a substantial twenty two roomed house of brick, with a five bay entrance. In 1814, a descendent, Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot built the house that we see today which is believed to be the result of major alterations of the earlier house. Sir John became Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania where he died in 1847.

After a brief period as a school for boys, Berkswell Hall was bought in 1861 by Thomas Walker, a local iron master and owner of the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. in Wednesbury. It was Walker who enlarged the estate, formed the lake, built the lodges, coach house and stabling. The elegant Hall had richly papered walls and decorated ceilings, marble mantelpieces in most rooms including the nineteen bedrooms. The gilt, mahogany and stone staircase is what gives the Hall its Grade II* listing today.

Joshua Hirst Wheatley was the next owner in 1888. The Reading Room in the village, opened by his wife Edith, was built at his expense as were repairs to the Church Bells. Upon Joshua’s death his son Charles Wheatley and his wife Christobel moved into Berkswell Hall in 1925. Upon Charles’ death in 1943, Christobel continued the management of the Estate, taking a great interest in village affairs and hosting the annual Church Fete at Berkswell Hall until ill health forced her to sell in 1984, when the Hall was converted into luxury apartments.

The Well House
Wednesday 12th June 2013

The Well House

The Well House originally formed part of ‘The Glebe Lands’ (ie an area of land within an ecclesiastical parish used to support a parish priest). It is thought that a building has been on the site of the present building since the Church was built in Norman times.

According to Hearth Tax returns the Rectory, with seven taxable hearths, was one of the four largest houses in the village between 1662 and 1673. The building consisted of eight bays of building and an additional three bays called the backhouse, with mention in 1701 of ‘a little lower piece adjoining to the end of the house which is against the church door’.

From 1659 until his death in 1710 Manuel Lugg served as Rector at Berkswell. His inventory at this time informs us that the house was seven bed roomed with a Men’s Chamber for the servants.

The Glebe Terriers show that this Rectory was rebuilt between 1711 and 1722 but it is not clear whether this building was rebuilt by incorporating the earlier building or by building from scratch on the same site.

The 1722 Terrier describes ‘seven bayes of new building and (again) a piece of building adjoining the end against the Church door’ The later represented a large bay of new building called the brewhouse. The new building was in red brick with stone quoins forming a decorative contrast with the adjoining walls and moulded window surrounds. There were two wings with a recessed centre. The wings had curvilinear gables reflecting an increasing Dutch influence at that time. Internally there was now an impressive staircase with turned spiral balusters and a moulded handrail.

In 1865 the property was occupied by the then incumbent, Dr Henry Watson who had been assistant mathematics master at Harrow School. Dr Watson was a learned mathematician who continued to teach students, many Cambridge undergraduates. To accommodate these students a large Victorian building was erected at the rear of the house.

Maud, the youngest child of Reverend Watson became distinguished by being the first Ladies Lawn Tennis Champion in July 1884. She won the title at the age of nineteen defeating her sister Lilian in three sets. She retained the Wimbledon title the following year. Maud died in June 1946 at the age of eighty one and is buried with her sister in the churchyard at Berkswell. In 1994 to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of her achievement, Berkswell Tennis Club staged a Victorian tennis afternoon held in the grounds of the Well House.

During the Great War of 1914-1918, the building was established and maintained as a hospital for British sick and wounded. Maud Watson MBE was the organiser and Matron in Charge.

Following the sale of the property by the Church Commissioners in 1955 the Victorian extension was demolished and a number of alterations were made to the original William and Mary building both outside and inside.

The property has always had a link with the Well in Berkswell as a stream from the Well runs through part of the garden and hence through land of Berkswell Hall. A survey map of Berkswell Glebe dated 1782 shows five fish ponds fed, presumably, by the stream.

Part of the Well House garden and orchard fronting Lavender Hall Lane was sold separately to form the sites of three houses. Later the coach house was also sold and converted to a private house.

For further information on the Well House please refer to: Rebuilding the Rectory by Jack Tucker, Berkswell Miscellany Vol III Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group 1987,copies in then Warwick Record Office and the l Archives of the Berkswell Museum

Berkswell Church of England Primary School
Wednesday 12th June 2013

The school moved to its present site in the heart of the village in 1839. The building consisted of two classrooms, at one end a room for the ‘big children’ and at the other a room for the ‘mixed infants’. In the centre was the Headteacher’s house presided over by the Headteacher’s wife known as ‘Ratty Mary’. Much later this central part was made into a classroom but retained its open fire until major alteration work in 1960. The other source of heat were three enclosed iron tortoise stoves using coke with the clinkers having to be removed at least once every hour to maintain the heat output. Wet clothes were draped over the stoves iron rails to dry. The classrooms were painted green and faded yellow. Each day a bucket with a tin mug tied to the handle was filled from the only water supply, the Well across the road. Attendances at some points in the year were very low as the children had to assist their families with the harvest, or acting as bird scares for local farmers after the land had been seeded.

During World War II the school was used as a refuge by people fleeing the bombing in Coventry. The skylight glass was broken and replaced with a panel from a bombed out pub in Coventry, the etched glass bearing the world ‘Bar Parlour’.

From mid 1950s renovations and extensions provide the school with the high standards it has today.

For furtber information on Berkswell School please refer to:
Berkwell Society Local History Group Publications 2 (2002) and 4 (2006).

The Bear Inn
Monday 6th August 2012

The Bear Inn - History

The Bear Inn

The building is a Grade II listed building dating back to the sixteenth century. While we do not know when the Bear first became an Inn, the sign is the Bear and Ragged Staff, which is the crest of the Earls of Warwick. From 1277 to 1557 the Earls of Warwick held the Manor of Berkswell.

The Quarter Sessions of 1641 report that John Allen was granted a licence to run a victualling house in Berkswell. It is not certain of the location of such a building but it does show there has been an Inn in Berkswell for centuries.

Many soldiers were quartered in Berkswell during the Civil War and while renovation work was being carried out in the 1980s, a helmet and boot, belonging to the Cromwellian era, were found embedded in one of the interior walls of what is now the Bear Inn.

The Bear Inn has been renovated many times over the years but it still retains a wealth of timber beams including one reputed to be thirteenth century brought from an old manor at Cheylesmore.

By 1841 the fifty year old innkeeper, Henry Britain, described as victualler, maltster and farmer of fifty acres, together with is hs wife Mary rented the Bear, its garden and buildings from the Lord of the Manor, Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot. On Henry’s death in 1867, William Gregg, a licensed victualler from Birmingham took over the management of the Inn. A guide book produced in 1874 states that ‘The Bear and Ragged Staff Commercial Inn is a large house, well fitted up with every convenience. It is much resorted to by pleasure parties from Birmingham and Coventry’ (1).

The popularity of the Bear increased further over the years, a ledger dated 1895/6 records a variety of services offered: a band of five played there and their meals cost 10 shillings; Dr. Watson was charged 8 shillings for a carriage to Meriden Hall from Berkswell Rectory (the Well House); 1 shilling was charged for the stabling of a pony overnight; a bottle of whiskey was 3 shillings and 6 pence while their best sherry was 6 shillings a bottle; Mr Edam paid 1 pound 17 shillings and 6 pence for a journey of forty two miles in a dog cart and 11 shillings for two rooms with breakfasts, sandwiches and brandy.

What is now the car park was, in 1800s, the venue for the entertainment accompanying the October Stattis Fair when local Friendly Societies carried their banners and games and competitions were held plus a pig roasting and a procession to the Church led by a band. Farm servants would come from a very wide area to this Fair to be hired by local farmers. The Fair continued until the beginning of the First World War in 1914. Although the Annual Flower/Horticultural Show held by the Sick and Dividend Club was held in the field.

During the Second World War the bar of the Bear was a popular venue for people wishing to escape the Coventry blitz. They were allowed to sleep over and the floor of the bar was always crowded with bodies.

Over the years many clubs and societies have met at the Bear such as the Friendly Sick Society, the Coventry Churchwarden Pipe Club and the Society for the Prosecution of Felons. Berkswell Society still meet there today together with local functions being held reflecting the importance of the Bear to parish life.

For further in depth detail about the Bear Inn please refer to:

(1) Berkswell Miscellany Vol II, Offshoot Group of Berkswell Local History Research Group published by Heart of England School Community Services 1986; copies in Warwick Record Office and the archives of the Berkswell Museum..

The Well
Monday 6th August 2012

History
The name "Berkswell" has long been attributed to the presence of the well - "In Domesday book it is written Berchewelle, having first had that denomination (as I guess) from the large Spring which boileth up on the South side of the Churchyard" wrote the Warwickshire historian Sir William Dugdale in the mid 18th century.

In the crypt of Berkswell's church are a round sandstone base and a stone carved foot which were found in 1967 between the walls of the Norman crypt and the foundations of the earlier Saxon church. It is thought that they were likely to have been parts of a pagan shrine originally situated by the well. Augustine instructed the early missionaries to use established places of worship when they set up Christian churches so it is possible that the situation of the current church owes its position to the well.

The English place names society suggested that the name Berkswell means Well or Spring of Bercul, a personal name that is found in Mercia ( wherein "Berkswell" lay) in the eighth century.
Christianity had been brought to this area by travelling monks from Lichfield. A local leader,Bercul, is said to have been baptised in the well.

The well was the source of water for many villagers, including the school, right up until the mid twentieth century. In the nineteenth century a pipe was laid from the Well to Berkswell Hall where a hydraulic water ram lifted it for use in the Hall up until the eve of the second world war. The well was refurbished in to its present form in 1851.

Berkswell Museum
Thursday 2nd August 2012

The Cottage
The building was originally two cottages and typical of the half-timber framed cottages found in this county, as distinct from the more patterned type found in other counties such as Cheshire and Suffolk.
The construction consists of horizontal and vertical framing similar to those built in the later 17th century in Warwickshire. Around 1790, local hand-made 4½ inch bricks were used to replace the original wattle and daub infill between the framing. The timbers were seasoned in-situ, hence the twisted shapes and sloping floors.
In the early 1900’s the roof, then made of straw thatch, was replaced with machine-made tiles on new rafters, placed alongside earlier rafters, which can still be seen at the eaves, painted white.
The ground floor would originally have been beaten earth covered with wattles. This was replaced with quarry tiles in the early 18th century. The dormer windows were a 20th century addition.
One upper room, which now houses the farming exhibits, has a very old elm boarded floor, although the floor of the other room is modern.
The fire-grate in the kitchen dates probably from between 1790 and 1820.
Latterly the cottage was used as the home of the District Nurse and Midwife.
Gertrude Dewson, the first District Nurse to be appointed, came to the left-hand cottage at the age of 16 in 1915. Later she became Mrs Sandey, wife of the under-chauffeur at Berkswell Hall, and, the right-hand cottage being empty, the two cottages were converted to one for their occupation. A later District Nurse insisted on water being laid on and a bathroom being constructed. Prior to this, water had to be fetched from the well.

The Collection
The original collection, made by Kenneth Hope, has been considerably extended and consists of memorabilia, farm implements, tools and household items, etc together with Church and Parish documents. It also has areas devoted to various famous inhabitants: the first Wimbledon Ladies tennis champion, Maud Watson; R.E.S. Wyatt a former England cricket captain; Jeremy Brett the actor better known as Sherlock Holmes; and Colonel Huggins a former commander of a Royal Artillery Territorial Regiment.
In front of the museum is the canon which was brought back to Berkswell by Captain A E Wilmot of the Royal Navy; it arrived 3 years after it was captured from the Russians in Kertch in 1855. It was fired with great ceremony in 1856. When it was fired a second time at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the blast broke windows all over the village so it is not proposed to fire it for Queen Eliaabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

For information on the museum phone 01676 522 077. Details on the archive centre are on the Berkswell and District history group website: www.berkswell-history.org

Windmill
Wednesday 1st August 2012

Berkswell Windmill is a four sails tower mill constructed in 1826 on the site of a former post mill, near the village of Balsall Common, in the parish of Berkswell. The windmill is built in brick with a wooden boat shaped cap, and is turned into the wind by an endless chain winding mechanism.
The windmill is a Grade II star Listed Building and a Scheduled Monument. It is in private ownership and sits in the owner's garden. Visitors may view it from the roadside and are asked to be respectful of the fact that a family lives there.

History
Historically it was used to grind flour and animal feeds, and in 1927 the milling wheels were adapted to run off a diesel engine, not reliant upon the variable nature of the wind.

It is thought to be the most complete and original mill in the UK, having all of its original machinery. The mill was finally closed in 1948, after the last miller John Hammond died. Previously he and his wife Gertrude kept pigs which they fed on waste from the mill, as well as chickens and cows to make butter which they sold in Coventry. They are both buried in Berkswell Churchyard.

The Millwright Derek Ogden and specialist engineer and windmill expert John Boucher, restored the Mill for its then owner between 1973 and 1975. It was mostly complete, with sails and all internal machinery and tools, for making flour and animal feed. However, after the death of the owner, the windmill again fell into some disrepair until purchased by the current owner in 2004.

The windmill today

It is currently undergoing further extensive restoration work, in part with generous funding from English Heritage and with help from John Boucher who the owner is thrilled to have back after all these years! The refurbishment work includes some internal work such as replacement of rotten timber, removing the windmill's Cap (whole roof section to be completely refurbishment), a new curb (so the cap can rotate again), some replacement bricks and complete re-pointing of the brick tower, and finally rebuilding the perimeter wall and new sails again. This is expected to allow the windmill to operate on wind power again, albeit infrequently, on demonstration days. It is hoped to re-open the Mill to visitors in 2013 on the first Saturday of every month. Guided tours will also be offered for parties such as schools, and cream teas will be available, when re-opened in 2013.

"The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill"

Volunteers, current age range 12 – 86, and including a “Young Millers Group”, regularly help out with the refurbishment work demonstration days, and a charity has been registered with the Charity Commission that is known as "The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill".

There is a constant need for volunteer tour guides and help with general maintenance and the refreshments. Full training is given and The Friends of the Berkswell Windmill always have an enjoyable time.

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