It was the morning after the Riddles of the Night* workshop that I have shared again recently. We wandered out into the landscape. Although the workshop was over, apparently, the work begun on the weekend was only just beginning…
“We need to go to Great Longstone.”
“Oh. Have we been there before?”
“I have no memory of this place…” My companion’s acceptance says a lot about our adventures over the past few years. We have been led by the birds to ancient and significant sites, been given directions by a llama in the middle of nowhere, and woken from sleep knowing where we had to go next. Even though we had no idea why. “Can you remember anything about it?”
“Only the geometries on the ends of the pews. And I think it has a ceiling.“ So, on the day after the Riddles of the Night workshop, we headed out early in the general direction of Bakewell.
“It’ll be shut.”
We walked up the lane from the village centre towards the church. It was raining, that fine, December rain that soaks every nook and cranny. Great Longstone is a typical Derbyshire village of mellow stone and solid, sturdy houses. Its name has always intrigued us and, if there ever was a ‘great long stone’, a standing stone, its whereabouts does not seem to be recorded.
The ‘long stone’ may refer to Longstone Edge, a limestone outcrop above the village, or the White Cliff, where fossilised corals from deep below the ocean now touch the skies above the Derbyshire Hills. There is a Bronze Age bowl barrow close to the White Cliff, looking over Monsal Dale toward Fin Cop. Two cists were found when it was partially excavated. One contained a cremation burial, the other held the remains of two adults and two children. Close by, the remains of another adult and two more children were found, along with the bones of a dog.
The village is mentioned as Longsdune in the Domesday book of 1086, and belonged at the time to Henry de Ferrers, a Norman lord who had fought for William the Conqueror at the battle of Hastings in 1066. His bravery was rewarded with many grants of land by William when he became king.
The earliest known record of a religious establishment in the village is that of a chantry endowed by Griffin, son of Wenuwyn, a Welsh Prince, in 1262. To endow a chantry was to pay for the singing of Masses, but can also mean a chantry chapel, or even a priest. A chantry was usually dedicated to giving thanks for, or to commemorate, an event or person. The earliest parts of the current church date back to the thirteenth century, so may have been part of the chantry chapel, although there may have been a place of worship on the site much earlier, as was often the case. Many old churches are built on sites that were held sacred long before Christianity reached these shores.
“It’s shut,” said my companion as we walked under the lych gate.
“Perhaps not. But I think you are right.” There was no way to tell from the gateway, but you get a ‘feel’ for it somehow. And the church did not feel open. Even so, we could explore the churchyard. We knew there was a preaching cross, with a seventeenth century date carved into the steps of its base. We could see any number of cross pattée of various designs, many of them encircled and all of them potentially tying in with the work we had been doing with the eight-pointed star, the Templars, the Foljambes and the families of Haddon Hall. The trouble is, you must stay observant but objective. These crosses could simply be a decoration fashionable at the time they were erected. We would need something far more obvious before we could begin to tie Great Longstone into our theorising.
But perhaps the church might not need to be open. We had been here before, a long time ago. I was bound to have pictures of the interior… We watched a thrush pecking among the early primroses and a squirrel chasing around the great yew tree that guards the burial ground. Beneath it, we found at least one good reason for being in a deserted churchyard early on a Monday morning.
“So, who are the Oddfellows then?”
“No idea. Obviously Masonic though.”
There were a couple of references to the Oddfellows. We would have to do a bit of research. Was the masonry pattern on the backs of several gravestones a covert clue too? And the odd eight-pointed star? Perhaps we had seen enough… but I was going to check the door anyway.
“The way is closed…” My companion began to walk back to the gate. “I don’t know why you are bothering…” I tried the handle… it was locked, as we had expected. But we were going to have to come back later. Above the door was a double-headed eagle. Definitely Masonic.
It was still early, time for second breakfast in the car, courtesy of the festive hamper we had been given… and an early elevenses in Bakewell before Haddon Hall opened as we had decided we needed to visit the place. After which, we would be revisiting St Giles’ church in Great Longstone… and hoping it would be open…
*Riddles of the Night was a Silent Eye workshop in Derbyshire, in December 2017. Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen can be found by clicking the highlighted links.