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The Legend of the Swan Knight

Just a couple of miles north of Kidderminster lies the picturesque village of Wolverley. It has a fine church with an adjoining field leading down to the river known as the Knights Meadow...but why is it so named​?

One medieval morning a milking maid was making her way across the meadow to the herd, accompanied by an old dog. She jumped in fright at a strange old man rising from slumber in the grass, bearded and bedraggled and his hands in chains. The dog seemed to recognise the stranger and wagged his tail though, so the maid listened to what he had to say.

The man claimed to be a knight, none other than Sir John Attwood of Wolverley, and he had returned home from the crusade. He was taken to Lady Attwood who at first could not recognise this man as her husband until he produced a broken ring and held it out to her. She gasped, recognising the signet, as she had in her possession the mirror image of the device. The rings fitted perfectly together and as if by magic, their eyes locked and they knew each other. His fetters were struck off.

Sir John explained his tale. He had been captured by a Saracen army after a crusade battle and imprisoned, and while in his dungeon he despaired but prayed and prayed until one day an angel appeared to him. She opened the door of his cell for him and a huge swan appeared on the roof. The magical bird bore him aloft, flying across the seas to England, before swooping to land at Wolverley. As the swan made it's approach Sir John caught his foot on the church steeple, dislodging a tile and spraining his ankle, before he was deposited in the field. The church priest confirmed the mysterious missing tile and his story was confirmed. The cleric's smile was straightened out a little though as Sir John immediately told him that he was giving some of his land away to Worcester Cathedral to keep a vow he swore before he left for the east..

When Sir John died an effigy of him was placed in the church showing him with a swan as his crest and an old dog at his feet. The iron fetters were placed on show for centuries before being moved to nearby Wolverley Court when the old church was demolished. The field he was decanted on to became forever known as Knights Meadow and indeed, rent paid on the field included a small fee to someone “to keep the irons polished and to show them to all”.

Unfortunately there was no crusade during the life of Sir John Attwood, but it is likely he did join a band who took part in attacks on Pedro the Cruel of Castile. He could well have been captured for ransom, was unable to pay and possibly ejected penniless onto the streets of Spain before somehow crawling home. The story is steeped in classical and European mythology with the faithful dog as in the Odyssey, the obliging swan a cousin of the Swan Knight saga as later scored by Wagner and again - there is a possible Tolkien connection here as Gandalf's escape from the Tower of Orthanc on the eagle is an echo of the legend of our Swan Knight.

Today the effigy of Sir John can still be seen in Wolverley Court, damage from the Dissolution notwithstanding, but the iron fetters were last seen in 1988 before disappearing. A fine legend for a fine village that with it's strange cave houses (perhaps for another piece?) is definitely on the itinerary for any explorer of Mercia.

St John the Baptist Church at Wolverley, unfortunately temporarily shrouded in scaffolding, with the Knights Meadow rolling away from it

The rest of Knights Meadow, unfortunately now bisected by a road. An idyllic spot on a sunny day still

The effigy of Sir John Attwood, now in Wolverley Court

Another view of St John's Church from further back along the Knights Meadow

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