Sherwood's Forgotten Ancient Chapel

I recently received a ‘whistling arrow’ from Albie in Sherwood Forest. The note attached asked if I was aware of ‘Edwin’s Chapel’ on an old track at the southern edge of the Sherwood Visitors Centre, halfway between Edwinstowe and Warsop. I must say I had never heard of it and was extremely keen to research its history.

Born in 584, Edwin was the most powerful king among the Anglo-Saxons, ruling Bernicia (Northumberland and Durham), Deira (modern day Yorkshire) and much of eastern Mercia, the Isle of Man and Anglesey. Initially a pagan, he lived at a time when the country was converting to Christianity in two very diverse ways - Celtic from the influence of Columba in Ireland and the north and Roman following the Augustine mission from Rome to Kent. He became the first Christian king of Northumbria and the most powerful ruler in England.

Edwin was baptized by Saint Paulinus at York at Easter in the year 627, on the site of the present York Minster, in the wooden church of St. Peter which he had founded. He was a man of unusual wisdom and under him the law was so respected, that it became, as the Venerable Bede attests, "A woman might travel through the island with a babe at her breast without fear of insult".

King Edwin married Ethelburga, daughter of St. Ethelbert, King of Kent after promising to allow her to practice her Christian religion. When Queen Ethelburg gave birth to a daughter, she was baptized with twelve others by St. Paulinus on Whitsunday, and called Eanfleda.

On 12 October, 633, King Edwin was slain and his army defeated at The Battle of Heathfield near Cuckney (or possibly further north near Doncaster). He was repelling an attack made on him by Penda, the pagan King of Mercia, who, together with the Welsh prince Cadwallon ap Cadfan, a Christian only in name, had invaded his dominion. Perishing in conflict with pagans, Edwin became regarded as a martyr. He had reigned seventeen years.

Legend has it that King Edwin's Northumbrian followers carried the body of their king from the battlefield to a clearing in Sherwood Forest so that his enemies did not steal it. His body was decapitated; they took the head of their monarch back to York, where it was buried in his newly founded St Peter's Cathedral and his body was interred at Whitby Abbey.

Edwin was revered as a saint, his feast day for obvious reasons became October 12th and his shrine in York became a place of pilgrimage.

The place where his body had lain became hallowed ground. A small wooden chapel was built on the spot and Edwinstowe -- or ‘Edwin’s resting-place’ -- was born.
There is no existing historical evidence of the foundation of ‘Edwin’s Chantry Chapel’ in Sherwood Forest. But it once stood approximately 250 metres to the east on the side of the old road leading from Edwinstowe to Warsop. The earliest known record is the bestowal, by King John, of the annual stipend of forty shillings in support of the chantry hermit who ‘sang in St. Edwin's Chapel in the Hay of Birchwude, to celebrate service for his soul and those of his ancestors.’
From this time and up until 1548 numerous bequests were bestowed and later the chapel is described as consisting of a ‘parler’ (living chamber) and a chapel. The Sheriff of Nottingham continued to pay over the stripend until it was confiscated during the reign of Edward VI. Royal Commissioners under Henry VIII then took away everything of value, including the church plate and the building was allowed to fall into ruin. But Survey maps show the chapel’s existence in 1610, and 1630.
The site was re-discovered in 1911 after research by the vicar of Edwinstowe and a William Stevenson. They managed to recover and identify some of the chapel’s original building stones and place them in a cairn. A memorial cross was then placed amongst the stones with a tribute from Arthur, Sixth Duke of Portland.
I would like to thank Albie for bringing the  history of the chapel to my attention and supplying the excellent photographs.


Clement Glen said...

"Sherwood's Forgotten Ancient Chapel"

Special thanks to Albie for the pictures and information!

Trish said...

There are several lovely tales about Edwin’s conversion to Christianity, most of which tell about how he resisted it and the lengths that Paulinus and others went to to talk him into it. I wonder what he would have thought about being made a saint and having a chapel built in his memory. A wonderful post, as always, Clement.

Clement Glen said...

It makes it all worthwhile to receive comments like yours Trish. I am so glad you enjoyed the post and your thoughts are always more than welcome here.

Albie said...

Just to add a little more info for you....

The battle of Hatfield (Haethfeld in Saxon times) is more likely to be the site at Cuckney than near Doncaster (25 miles to the north east) if the legend of Edwin's body being hidden in Sherwood is true. Cuckney was originally called Hatfield before the Norman conquest and there are fields on the east side of the village that carry the name to this day. In 1951 there was some work carried out on the foundations of Cuckney church due to mining subsidence. The skeletal remains of around 200 males were found though no research/dating was carried out. Could these have been the remains of those who died in the battle of 1400 years ago?

The name of Edwinstowe could also be interpreted as 'Edwin's Holy Place' as a 'stowe' could also be a holy site or chapel in Saxon language.

The chapel was certainly around during the earliest legends of Robin. It is maybe not too hard to link the Friar Tuck character to the hermit/priest/friar who would have lived in there.

Clement Glen said...

Thanks Albie. The area would make an interesting investigation by 'Time Team.'

Paula Lofting said...

Fantastic! A really intersting post for me as you know of my love for all things Ango-Saxon. Thanks for taking the time to expand on this intriguing little known time period. My knowledge of the begginning and later AS period is extensive but not so much of the midde AS period. Thanks Again Clement

Clement Glen said...

Thanks Paula,

I have read that mounds of 'Saxon' bodies were discovered under the Church at Cuckney, but were never dated. They could possibly date from the battle.