Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Sheepwash Bridge
This is Well Dressing Week in the Derbyshire village of Ashford-in-the-Water so yesterday I decided to go and see this year's efforts. Ashford is a pretty village with some interesting things to see. Above is the medieval Sheepwash Bridge, it stands on the route of the old packhorse route called The Portway which ran from Nottingham to Castleton, a distance of about 45 miles. The bridge was built on the site of the ford across the River Wye. The Portway is a very old indeed and it is believed it dates back to the Bronze Age. I rather think that it is still possible to walk the whole of the route.
The photograph is better if you click on it and you will then be able to see the V shaped buttresses where people on foot could stand while the packhorses went by. In medieval times there would several hundred packhorses crossing the bridge every week.
The name of Sheepwash Bridge is quite literal, before the sheep were sheared in the early summer they were washed in the river to clean the fleeces. They were driven into the stonebuilt pen then driven into the river one at a time where one man would hold the sheep while another gave it a vigorous rub down after which it would swim to the other side and scramble out to have a good shake and dry off. I would imagine that this was a fairly strenuous exercise for those involved!
There is a second version of how it was done, in this one it's said that the lambs were put into the pen and the mothers were driven into the river at the spot where I'm standing to take the photograph. The mother's would instinctively swim across to get to their lambs. Personally I think this is the less likely of the two versions. The sheepwash was still being used up to the 1930s so you'd think there would still be someone around who would remember seeing it.
This tranquil view is taken from the bridge, when you look down into the water it is crystal clear and if you are lucky you will see large rainbow trout swimming around.
There are six wells dressed in Ashford this year and usually they are fantastic, I was rather disappointed this year though. This was my favourite of the ones I saw, it is on the site of Little Well which I think is the prettiest of all the wells..
This is just down the lane and is Greaves Lane Well, I rather like this one even though it isn't very colourful, it is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Act of 1918 allowing women to vote for the first time.
This is the village church which has unfortunately suffered from a Victorian 'restoration' and consquently little is left of the original Norman church apart from the tower and part of the North aisle.
The only really interesting thing about Ashford church is that it contains four of the rare Maidens' Garlands. These were wooden frames decorated with rosettes, flowers and ribbons made of paper. A paper glove or handerkerchief was draped over the 'Crown' with the name, age and date of death of the dead girl written on it. The 'Crown' was carried in front of the coffin of young girls who died as virgins - usually by a girl of a similar age to the one who had died.
After the funeral the garland would be hung over the family pew. It is no longer known who two of the Garlands belonged to but the other two belong to Anne Howard who died in 1747 aged 21 and Elizabeth Blackwell who died in 1801 aged 16. Legend tells that she was drowned in the river.
In the churchyard is the base of a Saxon preaching cross.
The last photo is the medieval tithe barn which, as is fairly obvious, stands handily placed right next to the church! It's a lovely old building though sadly a bit ramshackle in places.
There is a short explanation of Well Dressing here which I wrote last year for anyone who is interested.
Finally can I say thank you to all those who have made concerned enquiries over the last few weeks, life has been a little stressful and my DH is still waiting for his operation so consequently what has been lacking is inspiration, I just couldn't think of anything to write about I'm afraid. That's partly why I went to Ashford - time to take myself in hand I thought:)