Bramcote Old Church

Archaeology

Medieval Cross Slabs

Stretton sketch 2015 excavation

The medieval church at Bramcote was demolished c1860, except for its western tower which still stands in the old graveyard. Stretton in 1803 made drawings of a pair of medieval slabs which lay ‘near the chancel door’1. These were revealed again, partly covered by tree roots, but not recorded, during a minor excavation in 2007.

The slabs were located and exposed once more on May 7th 2015, lying c 9m east of the north-east corner of the tower, immediately outside the line of the south wall of the old church. Both are of creamy limestone, perhaps from Lincolnshire.

Slabs 1 and 2
(1) The southern slab is 2.12 m long, tapering from 0.72 m at its top to 0.34 at the bottom, with its sides moulded with a roll and hollow. It is slightly coped in section, and has carried a design carved in relief, now totally removed by erosion at the head of the stone. Below this is a central cross shaft, with at the mid-point of the slab a ‘double omega’ motif, a form of decoration characteristic of grave slabs produced by the carvers at Barnack in Northamptonshire, of which only a few examples exist this far north – there are others in Nottinghamshire at Lambley and South Leverton, and also at in Derbyshire at Breadsall. The details of the double omega are still quite clear – although misinterpreted in Strettons’s sketch. Lawrence Butler2 considered that the motif ‘most probably represents the palms or laurels carried in the funeral procession and cast into the grave’. At the base of the stone is a small cross, too worn to be sure of its details, but which seems to have been of a bracelet form, suggesting a late 12th or early 13th century date. Barnack slabs often have a cross at each end – perhaps relating to the headstone and footstone crosses often present on churchyard monument at this period – so there was almost certainly another at the top of the stone, possibly in the now-eroded area although there are possible hints of what could be a cross head not far beyond the double omega motif.

It has been suggested that this slab marks the grave of a priest, as it is placed in front of the church door, where priests were sometimes buried. This is possible, although medieval priest’s slabs often bore specific emblems, usually a chalice and clasped book, of which there is no sign.

(2) The northern slab, 2.19 m long and Tapering from 0.66 m to 0.39 m, is again slightly tapered in form, although without any edge moulding. It is cracked into three pieces, and the relief design is faint and hard to interpret. Stretton’s drawing, given his inaccuracies with the other slab, probably cannot be trusted. There seems to be a simple cross head, with immediately to the left perhaps the sword shown by Stretton. Near the foot of the cross shaft is a raised lozenge-shaped panel, now devoid of any further ornamentation. Not enough survives for any useful comment to be made as to the date of the stone, but it could well be of the 12th century.

1. W Stretton, The Stretton Manuscripts Being Notes on the History of Nottinghamshire, Privately published, Nottingham (1910)

2. Butler, L.A.S. Minor Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the East Midlands. Archaeological Journal CXXI (1965), 111-153

Descriptions and drawings of the cross slabs courtesy of Peter Ryder.