Welcome to the blog of the Gloucestershire cross-slab survey. Cross-slabs are a class of medieval stone grave markers which are decorated with a cross motif; they are most commonly found at churches and monastic sites, although some are held in museums. The survey aims to record all surviving medieval cross-slabs across Gloucestershire, compile a gazetteer database, and publish a corpus of Gloucestershire cross-slabs.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Slow progress outside...but some progress inside

A very busy summer and autumn has meant that progress on the survey has been painfully slow and there is still a backlog of recorded slabs to add to the database. Even though it hasn't been possible to get out searching for and recording slabs, some new information has come to light in the course of other projects.

Research into a totally unrelated site in Cirencester turned up a short note on a watching brief on St John Baptist church, Cirencester back in 1990. Cotswold Archaeological Trust (now Cotswold Archaeology) were called in after three 'coffin lids' were discovered during building works in the north aisle. Three 13th century coffin lids were recorded 'incorporated into the wall of the aisle as part of the foundation for this wall in the early 15th century'. Further investigation showed that 'many former tombstones had clearly been used to prop up the floor during restorations in the middle of the nineteenth century'

Archive summary of watching brief on Cirencester church
Intriguingly these coffin lids -almost certainly cross-slabs- may have been recorded again during 2008 excavations within the church. A trip to the Corinium Museum archives is needed to look at the detailed records and photographs.

 Research for yet another site led to a discovery relating to Minchinhampton church, where several cross-slabs have already been recorded. AT Playne's 1915 'Minchinhampton and Avening' contains further details on the restoration of the church in 1842. Many slabs were discovered during the rebuilding of the nave and chancel, Payne records at least one 'early' stone coffin, as well as recounting that cross-slabs were 'given to anyone who cared to have them. Thus they were scattered all over the neighbourhood and used for rockeris, ferneries, etc., or left lying in neglected corners of pleasure grounds.'Payne illustrates six of the slabs, at least two of which survive within the church, whilst a further two are now to be found outside the east end of the church, although both are now broken.

Six cross-slabs from Minchinhampton church, two of which are now lost 

All this does highlight several issues around cross-slabs: firstly the rate of attrition and loss, especially that experienced during the height of the mid nineteenth century church restorations, and secondly that there are doubtless many cross-slabs yet to be rediscovered, lying under existing floors or incorporated within walls and foundations. Thirdly that cross-slabs could travel some distance once disturbed -we have found cross-slabs from Minchinhampton church re-used in town buildings, and as far as Stonehouse, several miles to the west. Lastly, it demonstrates that there are records of lost slabs, and that by carrying out this survey -however slowly- we can collate all these records, and record the surviving cross-slabs, so that these intriguing medieval memorials can be studied, better understood, and protected.