The ruins of Holyrood Church and a quest to find five sculptures
Holyrood Church is actually the shell of a church. It was built in the early fourteenth century and was one of five churches in the old walled city. Right up until the Second World War it was in use as a church but, during the terrible bombing raids in November 1940, it was more or less destroyed. Because of its long history, it was used by crusaders en route to the Holy Land and soldiers before sailing to the battle of Agincourt amongst others, it has been kept as a monument to sailors of the Merchant Navy.
The church stands on the High Street, below the Bargate. Outside is a massive anchor, I’ve seen it many times but but never really really taken much notice of it. Today I stopped to look properly and read the plaque. It is actually an anchor from the QE2, a ship that was once a regular sight in the docks here. The thing is massive, much bigger than the anchor inside the church. It’s funny how you can walk past something so big so often and hardly notice it. I’m pretty sure visitors to my city know more about it than I do.
There isn’t much left of the church now, just the tower, the chancel and a few bits of broken wall. Even so it is a beautiful place with an eerie calm about it. I stood at the arch of the open door for a moment, looking down at the chancel and the beautiful wrought iron railings that have been added thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund. I thought of all the people who had worshipped there, been married, christened, sent off on their final journey. I looked at the small Titanic memorial just inside the door, then I walked up to the chancel for a closer look, passing the large anchor as I did. A tree now grows in the centre of the church and somehow it seems quite fitting. I’m glad I stopped to spend a moment there, it left me with a feeling of peace.
The five historic sculptures of Holyrood Estate
Not far from the Church there is a housing estate called Holyrood. It’s not the prettiest of estates, low, light brick and concrete blocks of flats, built to replace a slum area flattened by bombs during World War Two. It does have a claim to fame, however, Craig David was bought up there, wrote his songs, played the local clubs. A while ago, I was walking through in my lunch break, enjoying the sun on my face when I spotted a fabulous metal sculpture come sign on a pole standing out against the beautiful blue sky, a quirky thing, just the way I like them.
The sculpture depicted a Viking in a boat, complete with three sheep poking their heads over the side, I believe he’s meant to be a merchant sailor, representing the port history of this city and absolutely wonderful he is too. When I Googled it I found there are five of these, all different, scattered throughout the estate, so, if you like a walk and a bit of a puzzle, you could try to find them all.
This was exactly what I did over the next week. It gave me something to do in my lunch break and a bit of fresh air. If you wanted to cheat you can actually Google their positions but the estate is small and it makes a fun game.
The next day the weather was grey and dull so, luckily, it didn’t take long for me to find the next sculpture. This one was an archer, to represent Henry V and his famous archers setting sail for Agincourt in 1415. There is an interesting legend behind Henry’s archers, although historians today tend to agree it’s more myth than fact. Even so I like it so I prefer to believe in it. The English longbow men were feared and hated in equal measure and, despite being massively outnumbered by the French, the superiority of the archers helped win the battle. As legend has it, any archers caught by the French had the first two fingers of their right hand chopped off, making it impossible for them to shoot arrows. In my teens I dabbled with archery lessons and it’s true, those two fingers are fairly vital, unless you happen to be left handed. So, English archers, apparently taunted the French by sticking up those two fingers in defiance.
Ok, it may not be true, but you have to admit, it makes a great story, even though I happen to like the French very much. The Holyrood archer isn’t sticking his fingers up, he’s drawing his bow, standing in a strange boat with castle turrets at each end and he has a sword, shield and what looks suspiciously like a backwards baseball cap on his head. Wonder if that’s where the fashion for wearing baseball caps backwards come from or am I creating another myth?
The next day it was raining, but, undeterred, I set of on my quest. I took a rather wet stroll through the Holyrood estate searching for my third sculpture. This time I decided I’d walk through the middle. It wasn’t until I got to the road at the other side that I finally spotted it. This one was an angel her wings spread wide and a three masted sailing ship cradled in the arms. This is the Sailor’s Angel, representing the maritime history of this city and the tradition of putting voitive models of ships inside churches as offerings for successful voyages or surviving peril at sea. This is apparently a common thing in seaside churches but, as I’m not often found in a church, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one.
The next day was bright and clear but very, very cold, so I wrapped up well for my sculpture spotting mission. I decided I’d walk along the outside of the estate on the side I haven’t really explored yet in the hope of being able to peer down streets and spot something.
In no time at all I’d found the stevedore. This sturdy looking chap is holding a boat hook in his left had and, with his right, is steadying a model of the Titanic on his head, the four funnels leaving no doubt as to the ship in question. Reminding everyone of the dock workers and the city’s connection with the ill fated ship, as if we need reminding when almost every house in the city lost someone in the tragedy. This meant I had time on my hands, although, with the biting wind seeming to go right through my coat and all the layers of clothes under it it was tempting just to go back to work.
On the way back I turned to zig zag along Back of the Walls, mainly to get away from the wind and noticed an old warehouse, the Old Bond Store. I’ve seen it before but never really looked at it, today though, the red brick against brilliant blue sky made it catch my eye. It’s actually a nintenth century building, and listed. The two arched doorways, on on top of the other are quite striking and, looking closer, the doors themselves are quite beautiful, particularly the lower one, all metal studs and ornate wright iron hinges plus an impressive looking bolt and lock. Above these an old fashioned lantern still hangs from the middle of the eaves. The two upper windows are winderful grey arches with white bars. If only modern warehouses were as attractive, rather than steel and concrete monstrosities, what a lovely walk I could have through the industrial estate. Once upon a time I suppose they were.
Walking back through the estate I literally stumbled upon the fifth sculpture. This one depicts Dame Claramunda, a wealthy merchant from the early thirteenth century who lived and traded in the area. She looks quite stern in a wimple with a key, comb and knife hanging at her waist. This would have been the sign of a wealthy and powerful woman back in her day and its nice to know that there were strong womena like her back then, it wasn’t all down to the men.
As I still had plenty of time I decided to take one last walk round the estate and re find the other three sculptures so I could have the satisfaction of saying I’d seen them all in one lunch break. It didn’t take long and I managed to snap a photo of each one with the deep blue sky as a backdrop. All in all a very satisfying walk, if a very cold one.