Some notes from Matthew Champion

Posted by on Feb 10, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments

There are a number of clearly dateable features shown on the stones, such as the swords and ship image. The swords in particular are clearly dateable from the style of pommel. Such lobbed pommels tend to be from the C11th-C13th – with an emphasis upon the C12th. Likewise, the ship image shows a single -masted seagoing vessel, with integral rudder (rather than a steering oar) and simple rigging lines. Having studied a great deal of ship graffiti of similar vessels I’d also be more than happy with a C12th-C13th date.

The ship stone is most certainly interesting. It is stylistically very similar to some of the earlier ship graffiti we come across. Most of the ship graffiti I come across tends to be later, stretching in to the C15th and C16th, but occasionally I do come across earlier examples very similar to yours. However, even those tend to show the beginnings of ship design evolution, with basic forecastles and other features added to the upper works. What is really interesting about your ship is that it appears to be an early clinker built hull, but without these additions, suggesting it is indeed early. I’ll hunt out some of the early images, which tend to be a little crude in their execution, but have attached a C13th/C14th example from Parham in Suffolk (it is a nice clear image). As you will see, the hull, mast and rigging design are shown as very similar to your example. However, the Parham example has had additional upperworks added at bow and stern – the beginnings of the fighting castles of the later middle ages.

13th/14th century ship carving from Parham, Suffolk

13th/14th century ship carving from Parham, Suffolk

The imagery on the stone is particularly interesting – and may well be a reference to a storm at sea. The sword from the heavens is rather striking and suggests threat from the weather, whilst the figure at the bow of the ship appears to the praying. The other figure, most unusually, appears to have a hand raised in blessing – perhaps to calm the troubled sea. Altogether fascinating.

Lastly, I was intrigued by the axe. It would appear to be a typical early medieval mason’s axe, used for roughing out the stones. Such axes were used by some masons as a symbol of their trade, and we see examples etching into the walls of churches such as Swannington in Suffolk. However, if this were a mason’s symbol I’d have expected it to be far more discretely placed.


Matthew Champion

Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey