Category Archives: storytelling

Interview with Agent Krisa, DCHQ

I’ve come to C23AprilNDDjpeg-212x300heltenham today to meet up with one of the members of staff at DCHQ, a rather secret organisation in this pleasant Regency town, best known for horse-racing and … the other place. We meet in a café near the museum, a busy and slightly noisy place. Agent Krisa smiles at my surprise and confides that the noisier and busier the place, the less likely people are to overhear. She’s a tall, dark haired woman, dressed  loudly in a shiny, but rather tweedy jacket, and with severe glasses that make her look older than she probably is. There’s something of the schoolmistress there – or maybe, given her job at DCHQ – a librarian. For Agent Krisa has an important role there – she is the Keeper of Tails – oops, I mean Tales.

It turns out that they do outreach, you see, and in Stroud’s Museum in the Park on Sunday 23 April – the day we know as St George’s Day, but they call National Dragon Day for reasons that will become apparent – she and Agent Green from the same organisation are going to be telling stories, and Agent Green is going to be doing some practical activities with the children.

My interview doesn’t get off to the best of starts…

H: What can you tell me about DCHQ? I know it’s very secret.

AK: Indeed. All you need to know is that it’s the Dragon Conservation Headquarters – I think the title says it all, really. Don’t you?

H:  And your role, Keeper of Tales? What does that, ahem, entail?

AK: My job is to look after the records. I’m an archivist – although there’s a bit of a museum there, too – you know, the twisted swords of those who tried to kill dragons, some burnt bricks from destroyed cities, that kind of thing.

H: Really?

AK: Oh yes, of course, the dragons are great hoarders, so our storerooms are quite, quite full. But I spend most of my time with the records. Our archive is the most important archive of dragon stories in the world – well, the Chinese have pretty good records. We’ve got the very earliest tales, like Marduk and Tiamat from ancient from ancient Babylon on clay cuneiform cylinders, we’ve got all the St George stories, and, of course – all the current sightings and stories are held there too.

H: Sounds fascinating? So, how did you get into this?

AK: Well, I was a little bit older than Agent Green – she was recruited straight from university for her … unique skills. I, however, was already a fully qualified archivist before I got the job. It all happened in Greece, you see. My name – well, its not really my name, you understand, is like Agent Green’s – except its Greek, almost the Greek for gold. My father is a Greek Cypriot, so it seemed the right thing, especially after what happened. I was hiking in the mountains of the Peloponnese when I was about 30, and I’d got a little lost and was feeling a little concerned that I’d be stuck out all night. I mean, it was very beautiful – but you know there’s no mountain rescue in Greece! Then, when I turned a corner – I chanced upon a young dragon sunning herself. I don’t know who was more startled. I’m not afraid to say that I thought my time was up! But, in fact, she was very helpful, especially when she learnt what I did for a living – turns out she had a hoard of old scrolls from hundreds of years ago that she was looking after and was keen for someone to look after them.

H: Gosh, what happened then?

AK: Well, dear Fotia, as I learnt she was called (it means fire!) carried me down to the path again, I went back to where I was staying and in the morning I thought I’d dreamt it. I mean, I’d read a lot of fantasy books, and I’d read a lot of folk tales – and was quite adept at telling them, too – but dragons? No!

H: But you are working for DCHQ now, so…

AK: Yes. I went home to England again – I was living in Bath then, a favourite dragon place, I later learnt – and there on the doormat was waiting a letter, inviting me to an interview at a secret location in Cheltenham. I was to be met by an official – and there was the blindfold and everything. I was quite unnerved. But when I saw the archive for the first time, I knew I had to take the job!

H: So, describe a normal day at DCHQ for you

AK: First thing, I check that the environmental conditions are still stable. Many of our records are very, very old so we have to ensure that the temperature and relative humidity stay stable. With all our friends around it can sometimes get a little hot, as I am sure you can imagine … and if things do get a little damp, I know I can easily warm things up! But its a question of making sure they don’t get too hot… Then I spend  lot of time digitising the records – scanning and typing up onto our database. I catalogue the new acquisitions, manage the volunteers – making they know to cover their claws and put on the protective fire-proof muzzle – some of them can get quite excitable as they read the tales of their ancestors, you know.

H: You mean…

AK: Oh yes, they do like to get involved!

I’m fascinated, but Agent Krisa has now finished her coffee and, although she’s all smiles, I can see she’s looking to wrap things up.

H: So, what’s happening this Sunday?

AK: Agent Green is doing one of her outreach sessions. She’ll be teaching basic dragon tracking – how survive your first encounter with a wild dragon … Stabling and feeding … Techno-magical devices and clothing … What to wear for formal meetings with dragons. Plus important first aid such as What to do if your dragon’s flame goes out. Great fun! We all have to cover this, you know! And I’ll be telling some tales from the archives – including St George’s story, and one of those ancient tales from my first dragon friend, Fotia.

H: When is all this, then? And how can we book?

AK: It starts at 3pm, in the Museum in the Park. You can book by calling the museum on 01453 763394, just £3 for children and adults go free! We’re really looking forward to seeing you there. Perhaps you should come and find out more.

And with that she’s gone … and I realise she’s left me to pay!

 

The Rebirth of Stroud Out Loud! 30 October 2016 – by Kevan Manwaring

Stroud Out Loud! – the monthly open mic event I set up a couple of years ago at Mr Twitchett’s, the café – bar of the Subscription Rooms (having moved there from Black Book Cafe, where it was known as Story Supper – itself a ‘reincarnation’ of a previous Stroud event, Story Cabaret…) has moved to a new venue, and a new slot – the last Sunday of the month. The Little Vic, as it’s fondly known, is the ‘function room’ of the Queen Victoria pub, found at the bottom of the High Street, the main artery of Stroud’s throbbing metropolis.

 

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Kevan with the banner and seasonally appropriate vegetables…

 

Weighed down with an enormous pumpkin, backdrop, candles, flyers, horn, and other bardic miscellany, I arrived early to set up; hanging, with help from Team Brown, the drapes and putting out chairs and lights in exactly the same kind of way we used to set up the long-running Bath Storytelling Circle (founded by Anthony Nanson) which started off in the skittle alley of a backstreet pub before I found its current and long-standing venue, The Raven, where it’s been ever since. Finding the right venue is critical to a story circle’s success – it needs the right acoustics, the right ambience, and the right location. In the Little Vic, I think we’ve hit paydirt. With the room ‘dressed’ it looked splendidly atmospheric, and in a story performance, atmosphere does half the work. In a heritage venue that’s usually easy, but in a more modern space, often with harsh lighting, that can be harder – but the Little Vic was already half-way there, with beams and low-lighting. It is a very adaptable space as well, enabling different set-ups – which is partly why it finds itself hosting regular folk music, singers, stand-up, and now storytelling nights, as well as the odd Halloween disco (though somebody had run off with one of the life-sized skeletons the night before!). Our fabulous new banner was hung pride of place – the result of an enjoyable ‘art party’. After the logo was created by Tom Brown from a sketch-concept by his partner, Nimue, the banner was painted at Becca’s, with Kirsty Hartsiotis and myself adding the borders. Pumpkin pie and other snacks kept us going – and the result shows what can be achieved. Running a regular event like this can be a thankless task. You don’t get anything for it, and it can often feel like you’re doing all the hard work for everyone else’s benefits – providing a free, supportive and creative space for folk to flourish in (yes, you get to try things out as well, but you’re still doing the donkey work, and MC-ing well can be tiring, especially if you’re not feeling ‘entertaining’) – but the banner, and the resulting evening, shows what can happen when it becomes a truly team effort. It feels far more fun, fluid and enjoyable. I doubt I would have carried on the evening without this support, but this has given it a new lease of life.

And the awen flowed!

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Tom and Nimue Brown with James Colvin singing the Lyke Wake Dirge

After I introduced the evening, the Browns evoked the perfect ambience for Samhain, the Celtic New Year (more commonly known as Halloween) with a fantastic rendition of ‘The Lyke Wake Dirge’. Then we had poems from the current Bard of Hawkwood, Anthony Hentschel, which explored and expressed the ‘shadow’. Next, veteran actor Paul regaled us with a fantastic Jewish tale, accompanied by his fiddle. We had poems from Terry Custance about his trip to the USA; followed by a personal anecdote by a visiting American, Robin O’Flynn. The fact that Robin felt welcome to walk in off the street and safe enough to share with complete strangers the story of her life was proof of the pudding, as far as I was concerned, that we had created the right kind of space. Then we had Wayland who had come up from Royal Wootton Bassett to share his tale of the Moddey Dhu, the Black Dog that haunts Peel Castle on the Isle of Man.

 

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Robin tells her anecdote!

 

It was great to have a cross-section of storytelling styles and other art-forms, including acapella singing, music, stand-up and poetry. I invited young James, of the Browns, up to share his song, ‘Three Drops’, which we all joined in with, and this led nicely into my version of ‘The Battle of Brunanburgh’, adapted from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which I performed accompanying myself with shruti box and bones. After the break we had an amusing stand-up routine from Peter Adams, a vivid poem about a fox from Robin Collins, which inspired me to relate my Oxfordshire story of ‘The White Hare’(featured in The Anthology of English Folk Tales, published by The History Press on 1st November); and this, in turn, inspired Nimue to share her song, ‘The White Hare’ … I love it when such spontaneous connections emerge. Then we had Fiona Eadie’s tour-de-force, her version of Tam Lin, which she always likes to perform at Halloween – a prose version of this is featured in Ballad Tales: an anthology of British Ballads retold, which I had been slaving away at for the Halloween deadline (it is due out, also from The History Press, next July, and features myself, Nimue, and other SOL! regulars like Anthony Nanson and Kirsty Hartsiotis and Chantelle Smith among others). We had a comic song from James about David Attenborough, a final poem from Anthony about ‘the Owl Lady’, then I shared my version of another Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Ruin’, a suitably melancholic meditation on mortality and impermanence for Samhain. Nimue offered a great closing shanty, which got us all singing along, then I sent everyone on their way with a traditional Celtic valediction. Everyone went home with a bit of magic and a warm glow in their hearts. As Peter Adams quipped: ‘a Little Vic is good for you!’ It was an excellent evening and hopefully the first of many at our lovely new home.

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Stroud Out Loud! returns on 27 November, 7pm for 7.30pm start. Arrive early for a slot. 3 mins if reading, up to 10 mins if performing from memory. Little Vic, Queen Victoria, 5 Gloucester Street, Stroud GL5 1QG. (NB the December SOL! Will be on the 18th).

More video – Kevan performs The Ruin for upcoming Malmesbury Wessex Week show

On Friday 21 October, Chantelle and Kevan will be performing The Flight of the Sparrow,  at Malmesbury’s Wessex Week.

It’s a show of monarchs, mortality and morality in tale and song. Kevan and Chantelle explore the lives of Saxon kings, queens and saints in this enchanting ‘scop’ show for adults. With clarsach, percussion, Anglo-Saxon riddles, poetry and songs of the mead-hall, the duo will illuminate the time of Athelstan.

Here’s a wee taster of Kevan performing the great Anglo Saxon poem The Ruin, said to be about the ruins of Roman Bath:

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder – videos!

Those lovely folks in Inkubus Sukkubus recorded the whole show on 9 September 2016 and are releasing videos on You Tube! Here are a selection – watch this space for more as they come up.

Kirsty starts the whole thing by telling The Deerhurst Dragon:

Ronald Hutton introduces the band in his own inimitable style:

And here’s one of my all-time favourite songs, the Witch of Berkeley:

The Life, Labours and … Ghosts of a Forest Collier – by Kirsty Hartsiotis

 

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Timothy Mountjoy (1824-1896)

 

It’s fitting, perhaps, to be posting this on the death day of William Morris. Exactly ten years older than Morris, and dying in the same year, the man pictured here isn’t known at all. An internet search for Morris brings up thousand upon thousand of entries. For this man, Timothy Mountjoy, the references are expended by the end of the first page[i]. And yet, like William Morris, Timothy Mountjoy was a passionate, obsessive man, deeply committed to the cause of bettering the conditions of life – in Mountjoy’s case for his fellow miners and their families. Like Morris, too, he was compelled to write. In his case, it was a memoir of his life and the Forest of Dean in the mid-19th century, rather than poetry or actual Socialist polemic against the mores of their shared world.

I discovered Timothy Mountjoy while researching Gloucestershire Ghost Tales. There are many ghost tales from the Forest, but I was struggling to find one that spoke to me, that I wanted to tell. Then I found this strange tale of dark, drunken deeds on Ruardean Hill, and what happened after … which became ‘The Body in Pan Tod Mine’. And the source? Mountjoy’s book.

Now, this book is, on the face of it, a strange source for a ghost story. Mountjoy was a Baptist minister, a committed Christian who expends a lot of ink in The Life, Labours and Deliverances of a Forest of Dean Collier in telling us about his faith. He was one of the men who brought trade unionism to the Forest miners, was the General Secretary of the first union for coal miners in the Forest, the Forest of Dean Miners’ Association, and fought to improve their lot throughout his life – though with little thanks and only varying success! But hidden in the interstices of his book are fascinating glimpses of another life, one of haunted woods, of dark deeds and of Mountjoy’s own uncanny second sight. In Gloucestershire Ghost Tales, his story is told in ‘The Body in the Pan Tod Mine’ – which, it seems, Mountjoy (and the rest of the Forest, according to him!) witnessed. Note, dear readers – there’s a little extra ‘ghost’ tale at the bottom of this post … read on!

The Life, Labours etc. is exceedingly rare – though I would dearly love my own copy, they are not available for love nor money[ii]! So I went to Gloucestershire Archives to read it, armed with a notebook and a pencil. Everyone else seemed to have piles of documents, so I felt a little small sitting there with my single tiny volume. But it was worth it. Timothy Mountjoy should be better known.

Born at Littledean Hill in 1824, he was born into a rapidly changing world. In the 1820s the Forest of Dean was just about to become a major place of industry. Iron and coal had been mined there since at least Roman times, and small scale free mining had taken place since the reign of Edward I (a reward for Foresters who had taken part in the Siege of Berwick, apparently!). But the industrial revolution changed the pace and scale of mining forever. After all, what did it need more than anything? Iron and coal. Hundreds of pits were opened up – but as Mountjoy records, the conditions for the men who worked in them – and their families – were bad to the point of dangerous. He describes how, in 1819, 4 men were killed when their chain link (probably made of flat iron links and hemp rope) broke. The youngest man, Meredith, was only 12, the same age that Mountjoy started in the pits 17 years later.

Mountjoy own start in life was tenuous – as a baby he cried day and night, until the girl who was watching him was minded to throw him into a nearby well! As a young lad in the pit he was careless one day and knocked his head fooling around – knocking himself out and falling down the pit. He got away with bruises, but it must have been experiences like that that made him so keen to improve the conditions (and pay, of course) of the miners, but also made him turn to religion.

But Mountjoy knew things … he speaks how he would dream true, and recounts how once, he dreamed that there were lots of men milling about Prospect Pit, and as he came in he saw there was a man lying dead. Alarmed by the dream he reported it to the bosses (though maybe not to the man he saw dead) but nothing happened. Then, a cry was heard, and it was discovered that the roof of part of the pit had collapsed, crushing a boy, Mark Williams, to his death beneath. Mountjoy was sure his dream had been a warning. His first wife, too knew things too. He records how she told him early in their marriage that she would die in her 35th year … and she did.

He describes forgotten ghosts, too. Who was the ghost by the crooked pear tree that his sister saw, and who was haunting the Temple[iii]? He himself had an experience. One night when he was walking over Owl Hill homewards through the Heywood Enclosure, the woods closing in on him as he went, the night dark under the trees … and there, eyeball to eyeball with him, a white face, two huge dark eyes… He backed away… It followed … and so it went until the edge of the wood when a shaft of moonlight revealed the spook – a calf and its mother! Full of relief and chastising himself for believing for a moment that ghosts really existed young Timothy made his way homewards only to see a white shape rise in front of him when he was nearly home. Hair standing on end, Timothy stopped – but the spook took fright at the sight of him and legged it … and Timothy saw he was leaving a trail of potatoes as he fled. No ghost there, but a potato thief in a sheet!

Notes:

[i] You can find out about him in Four Personalities from the Forest of Dean by Ralph Anstis (Albion House: Coleford, 1996)

[ii] There is a booklet of extracts from the book Hard Times in the Forest by Timothy Boughton and Fred Mountjoy (Forest of Dean Newspapers Ltd, 1971) but this is almost as unavailable as the book itself!

[iii] This is Solomon’s Temple, an 18th century house built on what is now Temple Lane – but of course a real temple was discovered many years later near Littledean Hall, a Roman temple!

 

Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder in Gloucester

1-iksu-pic-by-mick-robertsOn Friday night I had an absolute blast! I had the privilege to take part in an amazing show, Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder with the incomparable Inkubus Sukkubus, as their storyteller. This was part of Gloucester History Festival – so it was great to introduce a bit of folklore to all that ‘real’ history. We were telling the histories we all want to believe are true! The stories that are true at gut level … the kind of stories that make you nervous when you go are out into the darkness at night … and in some places, during the day as well. And though I might have been the official storyteller, Candia, Tony and the band were telling tales too … tales that ranged from local folk tales like the Witch of Berkeley (one of my absolute faves in song and story!), to witchlore to, er, activities on a certain local landmark to personal tales to touch the heart.

Inkubus Sukkubus have recently released a new album, Barrow Wake, an acoustic album full of the dark tales of Gloucestershire – and beyond (there’s an allusion to my original part of the world with Hopkin’s Man, Matthew Hopkins, the foul Witchfinder General, denizen of Essex and my native Suffolk. I’m so proud. Sigh.) It’s a great listen – sample it here, and then you know what to do!

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So, they decided to play a gig in their home city as part of the History Fest, and donate the proceeds to the lovely folk at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust who manage the Barrow Wake nature reserve. They wanted local stories to go alongside the music, so they approached Anthony and me. Candia McKormack, the lead singer of the band, also happens to have her pulse on the county – she works for Cotswold Life, and as a pagan, a nature lover and a folklore aficionado, she knew about Anthony’s Gloucestershire Folk Tales and our follow up, the Ghost Tales book. Anthony’s away right now, on a research trip for his new novel, in the South Pacific (poor thing!), so it was me. I offered a selection and Candia and Tony selected.

Two of the stories I was expecting – the Deerhurst Dragon and the Fairy Horn – but the third, the Seventh Bride, was a surprise. I was really pleased to do the Deerhurst Dragon in particular. Dragons can be seen as representative of all large predators, and our reaction to them – fear and the urge to destroy – we see even with what scraps of large mammal life we have left in Britain, such as foxes and those goalpost moving badgers. Several people came up to me afterwards to say how affected by the story they’d been – exactly what you want. It breaks my heart, too. But I also love that story because it taps into my old love – Anglo Saxon architectural sculpture. Deerhurst has some of the most intriguing in the country. Fitting for a medieval themed history festival, though a little early. The actual beast heads there are probably 9th century, and thus very rare. Nearly as rare as dragons, these days… The Fairy Horn, set in the heart of the Forest, is a classic fairies’ revenge story, and encourages you to show respect for the forces beyond your ken … like nature, like the spirit realm. The third story is a Gloucestershire Bluebeard tale, a fable to encourage young girls not to trust strangers, something we still sadly feel we must do to this day, but this tale also shows how powerful you can be in extremis – and has an unexpected long barrow with unusual and grisly inhabitants too. Dark tales…

The Inkies music was incredible – I was captivated from beginning to end. I didn’t want it to end. Candia and the band had invited fiddler Nick Gibbs from Folklaw and cellist Abigail Blackman to play with them, and I loved the acoustic sound they created together. Particular favourites were Woman to Hare (and the cat, don’t forget the cat!), the Witch of Berkeley, the title song Barrow Wake (tho’ it makes me smile when I think about the lovers in question!), and the beautiful song about the love spell that made me think, moist-eyed, about my far away love. Go to the Inkubus Sukkubus facebook page to see some clips from the night – I hope to pop some up here soon, too. I’d love to see this combination again – and in fact Candia is going to be guesting at the upcoming Folklaw gig at the Sub Rooms in Stroud 24 September. I shall be there!

20160909_195320-cropAnd all of this in the most amazing venue, Gloucester Blackfriars. Hard to believe the difference in the site from when I worked in Gloucester 10 or so years ago. I worked in the Docks, a bare hop (not even a skip and a jump) away, and although I knew it was there, of course I never went in. Now it’s a fantastic venue, perfect for storytelling and music. So atmospheric … the courtyard magical with little lights and the sound of the superb Gwilym Davies on pipe and tabor ushering in the guests with music, and the thrill of being in the building with all its layers – the great fireplace hanging above us as we performed, that strange combination of church and home. A friend and I were wondering what ghosts marched above our heads, pacing out an afterlife on lost floors… The Inkies had made it beautiful, too, and I particularly loved the film of the Forest with fairies playing above me – what could have been more fitting for the Fairy Horn?

Image credits:

  1. Me in full flow at Blackfriars, Friday 9 September 2016. Picture © Mick Roberts
  2. Inkubus Sukkubus at Blackfriars, Friday 9 September 2016. Picture © Jack ‘Pyromancer’ Howard
  3. Gwilym Davies piping in the hordes! Picture © Kirsty Hartsiotis

 

Sparrows and the quest for meaning in life

Sutton Hoo

Irresistibly, I am drawn back to our Wuffings and the beginnings of East Anglian Christianity. It may seem a dry subject to you, but for me it really helps to see how the region developed and took shape over those early years, and, like it or not, Christianity shapes the history of our region, our island, the whole of Europe.  However, we know from many of the tales of mermaids and dragons, of witches and cunning men, of Syleham Lamps and fairy changelings, that the old ways – and human imagination – still kept their hold of the people of East Anglia, right up to today.

So, if you’ve read the previous blogs, A Puff on Wuffings and Woden or Christ? you’ll know that Rædwald made a hesitant half-start when it came to bringing of Christianity to East Anglian shores.  He goes off into eternity honouring an entirely different set of gods, and Mound 1 – if it were to be his – is not the latest non-Christian burial there.  Paganism held sway among some for a time, it seems.  But the march of the White Christ pressed on in East Anglia, and circumstance would see it well entrenched by the time the dreadful Penda years came.  Why such a quick turnaround?  Bede once more has an answer, in the famous sparrow story told while Edwin’s court debates the issue of Christianity vs. their own existing religion up north in Northumbria.

Imagine the warriors of the court sitting on long benches around the central fire with the noble women passing amongst them pouring drinks while the debate rages on the long winter’s night. Outside, the wind howls, and sends the smoke from the fire buffeting through the room.  An old warrior sits back and stares up into the dim, smoky recesses of the rafters.  Can he make out a flitting shape there?  Maybe a bird has strayed in out of the cold.  Whatever he sees, it prompts him to make this famous speech:

Your majesty, when we compare the present life on man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall … The sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.  Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.[1]

The hope of a life after death for all, not only for those who were already rich and well-kept in this life was naturally desirable. With so much of the world in explicable except by supernatural means, religion and superstition had a power that many of us now cannot understand – at least while this little bubble of comfortable living we have constructed continues.  Edwin’s chief priest, Coifi, sees the writing on the wall, and immediately declares that his religion is worthless, has got him no gains, when others, less devout than he, have gained more, then jumps on a stallion and rides off to destroy the idols in the grove nearby at modern day Goodmanham in the East Riding.

Bede makes it sound very easy – but he is a Christian monk, with a Christian axe to grind. Between the lines of this time you can see that it wasn’t, really.  When Rædwald dies his remaining son, Eorpwald, becomes king.  Edwin of Northumbria then becomes the Bretwalda, and power passes into the north – effectively, Eorpwald owes allegiance to Edwin, as Edwin had done to Eorpwald’s father.  Edwin leans on Eorpwold, and the new king is christened.  Events move fast.  Eorpwald is killed by another member of the royal family, Ricberht, a pagan, and the kingdom reverts to paganism.  Who knows what was happening to the populace, what faith they followed.  In these times, it was all about kings.

For three years East Anglia stayed pagan, but then a new king arrived: Sigeberht. This young man had been in exile in France, which was already Christian, and Sigeberht had embraced the new faith wholeheartedly.  There may have been a balance – at first Sigeberht ruled with another king, Ecgric, another Wuffing, who was probably a pagan – as, let’s face it, most people would have been in the Anglo Saxon areas of Britain before 650.  But Sigeberht had a mission, and it didn’t take him long to put it into place.

First, he invited a French monk to join him to convert the masses. This was St Felix, for whom we get Felixstowe (probably).  Felix was made a bishop and set up a cathedral in Suffolk , probably at Dunwich, possibly at Walton near Felixstowe.  Unlike many of these early saints, he wasn’t a man for miracles.  He seems to have got on with the job in hand with minimal fuss, only ensuring that the villages of the Saints (the Elmhams, Ilketshalls etc.) were difficult to access to keep them pure and holy, and then after death playing the usual game of dictating where his body was going to end up – he went to Soham, a church founded by the saint, and then to the inveterate relic-hunters at Ramsey, beating the monks at Ely by casting a convenient darkness that bamboozled the Ely monks and allowed the Ramsey ones to escape with their prize.

No, for miracles we need to look elsewhere – and the next blog will be about East Anglia’s first miracle worker – St Fursey.

Photograph © Kirsty Hartsiotis, 2013

[1] Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Shirley-Price (London: Penguin, 1990), pp. 129-30.