Various circumstances conspired to put a temporary halt to my travels this last week or two, so here is a short piece about just one of the villages of Worcestershire I regularly travel past and know well. I'm going to make these shorter “village” pieces a regular fixture as there is much going on in these often forgotten corners of Mercia. It is amazing how many ghosts of our heritage linger in the villages we pass by every day, but most of the time we just remember an odd name on a signpost or remember a nice pub we once went to along a road... taking a detour now and then we can sometimes connect for a moment with these ghosts of the past.
Ripple is a village nestling in the southern corner of Worcestershire, like so many others it began as an Anglo Saxon settlement and through the centuries it saw it's fair share of history and drama. The Battle of Ripple took place in the fields between the village and the river Severn, when the cavalry forces of the young Prince Maurice of The Rhine easily routed and chased the roundhead forces led by Sir William Waller. Among the defeated Parliament forces were the “London Lobsters”, a regiment of cavalrymen kitted out as cuirassiers, with full segmented armour down to their knees giving them a lobster like appearance. They bravely stayed on the field as their comrades fled and the entire regiment of these courageous crustaceans was almost totally wiped out.
In the little village “square” the punishment stocks from the late 1700s are still there in situ although – fortunately or unfortunately depending on your views - not in use any more They sit next to a curious stone column, this is a typical medieval wayside cross often seen around the area, but here, as is often the case, the cross part is long gone and we are left with a megalith like column. In fact, just a quarter mile further along the road into the adjoining hamlet of Uckinghall, another apparent standing stone sits quietly on the tiny triangle of grass at it's centre. This too is what remains of a village cross, although you wouldn't think so to see it.
These crosses were erected in villages and along roadsides for several reasons but very often as 24/7 prayer points for devout travellers and traders making their way from place to place who might arrive at night and need to give thanks for staying safe, or perhaps to pray for loved ones at home. Other reasons were to give market transactions an air of fairness and good faith. Although old in themselves, usually from the 1300s and older, they are often mistaken for much older megaliths when the cross part is gone, and in fact one or two of them may in fact have actually been carved out of such ancient monuments. Why are most of the cross “heads” missing? We are quick to blame Henry VIII for any damage we come across to religious buildings, but the truth is that most of it was carried out by Puritans during and after the English Civil War. The two monuments at Ripple are no exception.
This brings us to St Mary's Church, the local place of worship. It is huge, seemingly far to big for such a small collection of villages, but there it stands, a mini cathedral, perhaps the largest church in the county. Inside is a fantastic collection of medieval carved misericords dating from the 1400s showing the months of the year and the activities that would have gone on. Ploughing, threshing, sewing and harvesting are all there, along with a few other stranger carvings including a very stern looking sun and a frightened looking moon.
Outside in the graveyard, if you look carefully, you will find one of the stranger burial locations of the county. This is the “Giant's Grave”. Robert Reeve was a local man who was reputed to be over 7 feet tall, and this walking tower died from a heart attack while taking part in a challenge where he had bet he could mow an entire field in one day single handedly. The epitaph carved on his gravestone reads thus - “As you pass by, behold my length, but never glory in your strength”!
So next time you drive through one of our villages, make the time to stop and take a stroll around, there's no telling what forgotten memories you might come across.
The cross shaft and old punishment stocks at the village centre
The Giant's Grave
The second cross stump a little further down the road
St Mary's Church - huge for such a small gathering of villages
One of the misericords, I think this one might show some kind of harvest scene
Another misericord featuring a very grim sun