A Lost Graveyard in the Wyre Forest
Bewdley was the location of my last post but while walking the trails around there I stumbled on something else I thought you'd find interesting. At the top of a meadow running along the river Severn is an area of woods which I decided to walk through to try and work my way back to the road.
I saw an odd looking building through the trees and went over for a closer look, it turned out to be what looked like a ruined old chapel. The large church style window shapes and what was left of the floor plan looked “churchy”. Crouching below a bent over tree I followed a rough trail a few steps and found myself in an amazing forgotten graveyard. Three gigantic trees stood sentinel over the clearing - an oak, an ash and of course a yew, with the pungent smell of wild garlic everywhere. Crumbling, ivy covered tombstones were all over the place, seemingly placed randomly, and most were almost swallowed up by nature itself.
Very few gravestones still stood straight or were even legible, most were either fallen flat, had sunk down into the soft earth or were covered completely by undergrowth. Like something out of a fantasy or ghost story, the glories of past centuries forgotten and almost completely lost to nature and the ages. This surely had have been a private family place of burial at some point in history, isolated and forgotten as it was, so some research was in order as soon as I returned home. Before I finished up and left though, something caught my eye.
Almost covered over with leaves, an iron cage lies in the roots of a huge ash tree. After brushing away what I could it was quite visible. This appears to be a mortsafe, and one of the very few existing in England. During the 1800s medical colleges relied on a steady supply of cadavers for dissection, and there were always unsavoury individuals prepared to supply these bodies, even if it meant digging them up. Scotland had a terrible problem with this practise and so the mortsafe was born, an iron cage wrapped around the coffin to prevent, or at least deter, anyone interfering with it. While many of these contraptions are still in existence in Scotland they are extremely rare here in England, so if this is indeed such an installation then it must be one of only around three left in the country. It is particularly sad that this one appears to have been installed on the grave of a young child or baby, judging on it's size.
Another curious grave is that of Susan Wowen, an alleged witch of Bewdley, Local legend tells that she grew horns out of her head and had them removed every three years in order for the next set to grow through...and an old record says a Mr Soley had one of them plated with silver! The famous Ashmolean Museum apparently has one of her horns in it's collection – when times change and the old normal returns rest assured I will be following up on that. If she really was regarded as a witch surely no consecrated grounds would have her? Maybe the poor lady suffered from some fungal infection causing such growths.
The graveyard turns out to be “Dowle's Church and Graveyard”, or what is left of it. First built on top of a Norman chapel in the late 1700s as St Andrews, “restored” during the Victorian era (not a good job apparently) with an adjoining building and then demolished in 1956. Since then it has been left to the elements with little attempt made to maintain or tidy the woods that were planted around it centuries ago. I love that this has happened, it makes for the most peaceful resting place those buried are going to get and takes the “earth to earth...” part of the funeral litany quite literally. I'm told the place has become a draw now for “paranormal investigators” and they say a mysterious man has been seen several times walking back and forth along what was once the path along the front of the chapel ruin. An old reverend wondering what has happened to his flock?
Places like this often inspire wild rumours and become part of local mythology among the youth of our towns. I love these made up tales of curses and alleged murders that supposedly happened at these weird places but it can have negative effects, you may remember my post about Avenbury Church in Herefordshire and the problems they had there with gravestones and even human bones being stolen. Predictably and depressingly, local youths have left their mark on the ruined building here with some graffiti and beer bottles left strewn inside but the graves area appears completely untouched thankfully. So if you live locally see if you can detour and find Dowles churchyard, it has a lonely and sad atmosphere that is quite unique.
What appears to be a mortsafe
The ruined church building