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Archive for the ‘‘Govan School’ sculpture’ Category

Netherton Cross
A detailed blogpost on the Netherton Cross is in the pipeline but, for the moment, here are three photographs to introduce the cross to those of you who haven’t seen it before.

Briefly, this free-standing sandstone cross is a product of the ‘Govan School’ – the stonecarving style of the Strathclyde Britons – in an outlying district 12 miles from the main sculptural centre at Govan. The low-quality carving and lack of intricacy suggest that it belongs to the later phase of the style, when the standard of craftsmanship was waning. A date of c.1050, around the time when the Strathclyde Britons lost their independence, would probably not be wide of the mark.

Netherton Cross
The cross formerly stood beside the River Clyde but is now in the grounds of the new parish church at Hamilton. Devotees of ‘Dark Age’ Celtic sculpture could quite easily walk past this enigmatic monument without being aware of what it is. On one side it has a central boss, flanked by two triangular shapes, above an interlace pattern; the other side shows a crudely carved human figure above a central boss which has two pairs of snakes uncoiling from it. Other patterns are difficult to make out but were identified in Victorian times and noted in antiquarian literature. I’ll describe all the carvings more fully at some point.

Although rather simple and unsophisticated, the Netherton Cross is one of my favourite examples of Strathclyde sculpture. It’s a hefty piece, with a weight and bulk that give it an impressive aura. This and the older example from Barochan are the only two free-standing crosses of the Govan School that still remain intact.

Netherton Cross

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The three photographs are copyright © B Keeling. Two of them appear in my book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland.

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Arthurlie Cross

Copyright © Chris Morrison


Chris Morrison, proprietor of the Grian Press, recently sent me some photos of the Arthurlie Cross, an early medieval monument situated in a residential area of Barrhead in East Renfrewshire. Although only the broken shaft of the cross survives, the clarity of the interlace patterns makes this one of the finest examples of sculptural art from the old kingdom of Strathclyde. The carvings are in the distinctive style of the ‘Govan School’ and enable the monument to be dated to the 9th-11th centuries AD.
Arthurlie Cross

Copyright © Chris Morrison


I visited the Arthurlie Cross in 2010 and included three images of it in my book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland, published in the same year. Readers of the book will recognize the illustration shown below, an excellent drawing of the cross by John Romilly Allen (1847-1907).

Arthurlie Cross
For the past couple of years I’ve been working sporadically on a ‘biography’ of the Arthurlie Cross, tracing its thousand-year history as a public monument and exploring the folklore that grew around it. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was used in a more practical way, first as a footbridge over a stream and, later, as a gatepost. The damage it suffered is visible today, most notably on one side where the carvings have been worn almost smooth by the passage of countless feet. In the 21st century we might feel tempted to roll our eyes at such heedless disregard of an ancient monument, until we remind ourselves that it is an integral part of the story. If the cross had played no useful role in the daily life of the local community, it might have been broken up as masonry for buildings.
Arthurlie Cross

Copyright © Chris Morrison


Arthurlie Cross

Copyright © Chris Morrison


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The Arthurlie Cross is located at the junction of Springhill Road and Carnock Crescent in Barrhead, East Renfrewshire.

I am grateful to Chris Morrison for the photographs. Take a look at the Grian Press website to see a good selection of books on Scottish local history, including reprints of older works. Chris also posts interesting historical info at the Hidden Renfrewshire Facebook page.

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A tantalising preview of the re-displayed Govan hogbacks appeared recently on Facebook, courtesy of the Weaving Truth With Trust project. These amazing monuments – shaped like Viking houses – look really impressive in their new positions. The WTWT team is designing a textile screen to hang in the arch behind them.

The other stones have also been moved, and their new information boards are almost complete. Soon, the old parish church of Govan (‘Govan Old’) will open its doors to visitors for the summer season.

This is the third largest collection of early medieval carved stones in Scotland still in its place of origin. Only St Andrews and Iona have more. So, if you admire the Celtic art of the Picts and Scots but haven’t yet seen the unique sculpture of the Strathclyde Britons, make 2013 the year you visit Govan.

More information will be posted here in due course. In the meantime, click the link below to see the hogbacks in their new settings.

Weaving Truth With Trust – The Govan hogbacks re-displayed

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Strathclyde sculpture: the Dumb Proctor
The main cemetery for the community of Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire sits high on a hillside on the edge of the village, above the west bank of the River Calder. Among the numerous memorials and tombstones is a strange-looking object known as the ‘Dumb Proctor’ which stands like a sentinel among the graves of the Ewing family. The old Scots word ‘proctor’, a shortened form of ‘procurator’, refers (in most instances) to a religious official. This one is ‘dumb’ because it’s made of sandstone. It does indeed resemble a stooping, hooded figure. To local historian Derek Parker, who described the stone some years ago, it seemed like “a brooding monk silently summoning sinners to repentance”.

Strathclyde sculpture: the Dumb Proctor

‘a brooding monk’


The front of the stone is dominated by a large boss in the upper section, below which is a serpent. Beneath the serpent is a horseman, now much weathered, above a square panel containing five horizontal bars. A report from 1890 described a border of Celtic interlace but no trace of any such pattern is visible today. On the reverse is the lower part of a large human figure wearing a long tunic or robe.
Strathclyde sculpture: the Dumb Proctor
Although the Dumb Proctor was once regarded as mysterious, we now know that it is a Christian monument of the early medieval period. The serpent is the last survivor of a quartet which once formed a cross around the central boss. These creatures symbolize redemption and rebirth, the analogy being the periodic shedding of their old skin. Arranged in a cross-shape they display the Christianity of the wealthy patrons who commissioned the stone. Likewise, the large figure carved on the back may represent the Crucified Christ, by analogy with examples from elsewhere.
Lochwinnoch Dumb Proctor
The horseman, although now indistinct, conforms to a type seen on stones of the ‘Govan School’ of sculpture. Govan appears to have been the premier stonecarving centre in the kingdom of Strathclyde during the 9th-11th centuries. Artistic styles developed at Govan were disseminated throughout the kingdom, appearing on monuments in frontier regions such as Ayrshire and the shores of Loch Lomond. The area around Lochwinnoch must at one time have lain within the kingdom’s southwestern border, probably close to an interface between the Strathclyde Britons and the Gaelic-speaking Gall Gaidhil who had been colonising Ayrshire since the 9th century. Lochwinnoch lay on an important route connecting the core of Strathclyde to the Irish Sea coastlands. It is possible that the Dumb Proctor was originally placed as a wayside cross along this route, perhaps to mark a boundary. The horseman – a mounted warrior – indicates that this was a secular monument rather than an ecclesiastical one.

Lochwinnoch
The Dumb Proctor owes its current shape to alterations made since its discovery in the early 19th century. It was unearthed in a field on the old farm of the Ewings, who placed it in their garden before re-shaping it as a gravestone. How much of the monument was lost during this process is unknown, for there is no contemporary illustration from the time of discovery. Nevertheless, the surviving portion was correctly identified as the upper part of a free-standing cross as far back as 1890. More recently, Alan Macquarrie proposed that the cross-head was probably similar to others of the Govan sculptural style, such as the still-intact example from Barochan (now in Paisley Abbey). The device of four serpents emerging from a central boss is reminiscent of the Sun Stone at Govan.

A reconstruction drawing of the Dumb Proctor appears on page 17 in the published version of Alan Macquarrie’s Govan Lecture for 2005. This was redrawn by Ingrid Shearer for a new book by Derek Alexander and Gordon McCrae on the history of Renfrewshire. My own attempt at a reconstruction can be seen below. It’s how I imagine the Dumb Proctor might have looked today if it still had its cross-head (in which case I suppose it wouldn’t look much like a proctor at all).

Strathclyde sculpture: the Dumb Proctor

My ‘reconstruction’ of the Dumb Proctor.

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Notes & references

All photographs and illustrations in this blogpost are copyright © T Clarkson.

Alan Macquarrie, Crosses and Upright Monuments in Strathclyde: Typology, Dating and Purpose (Govan: Friends of Govan Old, 2006), pp.17-18

Derek Alexander & Gordon McCrae, Renfrewshire: a Scottish County’s Hidden Past (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2012), pp.91-2.
[In my opinion, this book is an essential resource for anyone researching the kingdom of Strathclyde]

Derek Parker, ‘The Timeless Message of the Dumb Proctor’, Chatterbox, no.180 (2008)
[Chatterbox is a newsletter published by Lochwinnoch Community Council]

See also the entry for the Dumb Proctor on the Canmore database.

Allen and Anderson’s Early Christian Monuments of Scotland makes no mention of the Dumb Proctor, despite including Renfrewshire’s other surviving monuments of the Govan School. The Lochwinnoch volume of Archaeological and Historical Collections Relating to the County of Renfrew (the 1890 report mentioned above) had recognized the Proctor as an early Christian stone a dozen years before the compilation of ECMS. Were Allen and Anderson unaware of this?

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Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


Just inside the entrance to the parish church at Fairlie, North Ayrshire, is a well-preserved example of ‘Govan School’ sculpture. This is the Fairlie Stone, the last surviving portion of a recumbent (horizontal) monument designed to cover a grave. Its carvings are remarkably similar to those on a recumbent cross-slab at Inchinnan, near Renfrew, and to other examples of the Govan artistic style. What we are presumably seeing at Fairlie is a section of one of the long sides of a broken cross-slab, the rest of the monument having disappeared without trace.
Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


The carvings are clear and easily photographed. Viewed from right to left, we see the common Govan School motif of a beast biting its tail, then a larger beast with open jaws, and finally a man lying on the ground. The large beast seems to be about to attack the man, who has a round shield and a sword. Perhaps he is a casualty of war, lying slain or wounded on a battlefield, with wolves gathering around to devour him?
Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


Fairlie Stone

Copyright © B Keeling


By analogy with similar sculpture we can date the Fairlie Stone to the 10th century, or possibly the early 11th. Like the Inchinnan cross-slab it comes from an old religious site, in this case a long-vanished chapel on the Kelburn Estate to the north of Fairlie village. The chapel may have stood on the site of an ancient church and cemetery where high-status local families buried their dead in early medieval times.

It is interesting to note the presence of this type of sculpture – the stonecarving style of the kingdom of Strathclyde – so far from the main centres of power and patronage at Govan and Partick. Indeed, some historians believe that much of Ayrshire lay under the authority not of the Clyde kings but of the fearsome Gall-Gaidhil (‘Foreign Gaels’), a people of mixed Gaelic-Scandinavian heritage who settled the western shorelands of northern Britain in the wake of the first Viking raids. But the Fairlie Stone, together with another example of Govan School sculpture 9 miles south-east at Kilwinning, suggest that either the Gall-Gaidhil commissioned Govan-trained stonemasons to carve their monuments, or that they themselves were vassals of the kings of Strathclyde.

Fairlie Stone

The geographical context of the Fairlie Stone.


Although we know little of the early history of the Fairlie stone, its discovery in modern times is well-documented. It was retrieved during the demolition of Chapel House, a farmhouse erected on the Kelburn Estate in 1745, where it had served as a lintel over a fireplace. At that time it had a coating of black lead, but it was later cleaned before being placed in the garden of St Margaret’s Manse in Fairlie village. From there it was transferred to St Margaret’s Church where it was embedded in a wall inside the entrance. Finally, it was removed again to be inserted in a similar position at St Paul’s Church, now the parish church of Fairlie.

While it lay in the manse garden of St Margaret’s, the stone was described by a local resident, Miss Hutcheson, in the 1894 volume of Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. The description was accompanied by a photograph taken by Andrew Miller, another Fairlie inhabitant. Although the stone was noted 9 years later in the magisterial Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, it was evidently not viewed in person by the authors Joseph Anderson and John Romilly Allen, who instead cited Miss Hutcheson’s PSAS article as their source.

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References

Miss Hutcheson, (Untitled description of the Fairlie Stone), Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol.28 (1894) 234-6.
Full-text available online

John Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson (1903) The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) [pp.475 of Part III] Reprinted in facsimile by the Pinkfoot Press in 1993.

[I believe the photograph shown by Allen and Anderson to be Andrew Miller’s from the 1894 article but, because they don’t give Miller a namecheck, it appears uncredited like the photos taken by Allen himself.]

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Relevant links

The Fairlie Stone described at the Canmore database of RCAHMS

The Fairlie Stone described at the Fairlie Parish website

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Barochan Cross socket stone

Copyright © Donald Watson


In my recent post on the Barochan Cross I bemoaned the fact that the original base or socket-stone remains in situ on a hillside when (in my opinion) it should be reunited with the cross. Although the cross now stands proudly inside Paisley Abbey it is incomplete without its base, to which it was joined for more than 1000 years. Viewed separately, both pieces are important relics of the Viking Age, having been carved in the 9th century by the same ‘school’ of craftsmen who produced the Govan Stones. The Barochan cross-base, despite its plain appearance, is no less a product of this sculptural tradition than the magnificently decorated shaft it once supported.

These two photographs were taken by Donald Watson in November 1998. I am grateful to Donald for allowing me to reproduce them here.

Barochan Cross socket stone

Copyright © Donald Watson

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The Barochan Cross

The Barochan Cross (Copyright © Brian McGuire)


The Barochan Cross is one of the oldest surviving examples of the ‘Govan School’ sculptural style. Since 1981 it has been displayed in Paisley Abbey, in the south-west corner of the nave, where its carvings can be admired by visitors. Unfortunately, this magnificent monument was exposed to the elements for more than a thousand years and much of its detail has weathered away. It nonetheless holds a place in the first rank of free-standing crosses from early medieval Scotland. Moreover, it is one of only two intact crosses from the kingdom of Strathclyde (the other being the Netherton Cross at Hamilton) and has rightly been described by archaeologist Derek Alexander as ‘definitely the finest cross of the Govan School’.
Barochan Cross

The Barochan Cross in its secondary position on Corslie Hill (click on image to enlarge)


The cross is 2.6 metres tall and formerly stood almost a metre higher on its original base, from which it is now sundered by a distance of 6 miles. The base or socket-stone still stands in situ on Corslie Hill in Renfrewshire, and should (in my view) be reunited with the cross. Both are integral parts of a single monument which is incomplete while they remain separated. Like the sculptured stones in Govan Old Parish Church, the cross was carved from the local sandstone of the Glasgow area. It exhibits the same elaborate designs we see on the Govan Sarcophagus and is probably of similar date, both monuments originating in the early phase of the Govan School when the standard of craftsmanship was very high. Both may have been carved in the 9th century, with the cross perhaps being the older of the two.

The carvings on the cross include a number of features characteristic of the Govan School: a horseman holding a spear, a pair of animals, key-patterns and double-beaded interlace. A drawing by John Romilly Allen, published in 1903, allows us to examine the carvings in some detail, despite the damage inflicted upon them by the weather.

Barochan Cross

J.R. Allen’s drawing of the Barochan Cross, published in 1903 (click on image to enlarge)


Cross-head: A ring can be seen emerging from the four ‘armpits’. Double-beaded interlace extends across the arms to form a knot in the centre of the head. The same decoration seems to be on both sides (as far as I can tell) and on the ends of each horizontal arm. The undersides of the arms are decorated with small key-patterns similar to swastikas. Although the topmost section appears to be blank it does in fact contain defaced or badly weathered carvings, presumably of interlace.

Cross-shaft: On one side, the upper panel shows four robed figures beneath double-beaded interlace. The lower panel shows four hornblowers, armed with spears, marching from left to right above more interlace. On the other side, a panel of interlace forms the lower portion of the cross-head. Below is a panel containing three elements: a spear-armed rider facing an unmounted figure; a figure with an axe facing another with arm raised (holding a weapon?) while a smaller figure stands in between; and, at the bottom, two animals with open jaws face one another. Narrow panels of interlace and key-pattern run down the sides of the shaft.

What do these designs represent, and what was the purpose of the monument?

Local tradition formerly associated the cross with the Battle of Renfrew (1164) where an army of Scots led by High Steward Walter fitz Alan (ancestor of the Stewart dynasty) defeated the forces of Somerled, Lord of the Isles. We now know that the cross pre-dates the battle by 300 years, long before the Lordship of the Isles was founded by Somerled’s Viking forefathers. In any case, Walter commissioned a commemorative monument of his own to mark the site of his victory. This was not a cross but an eight-sided pillar which survived until the late 18th century.

The first and most obvious observation about the Barochan Cross is that it was not originally associated with a religious site. Before being placed on Corslie Hill in the 1850s it stood in a less-elevated position near a crossroads where the Barochan Road comes up from the village of Houston before continuing north towards the River Clyde. At the crossroads this old road meets another running west to the ancient church of St Fillan’s at Kilallan. Although the northern route now veers north-west towards Langbank its older line must surely have continued to the ancient ford near West Ferry. Here, on the southern bank opposite Dumbuck, lay the lowest fording-point on the river before the main channel was deepened in modern times.

Renfrewshire and the Barochan Cross

The original site of the Barochan Cross in its geographical context (click on image to enlarge)


To early medieval travellers the road from Houston would have been a direct route to the royal fortress of the Clyde Britons on Dumbarton Rock, a mile west of Dumbuck. It seems likely that the Barochan Cross was placed on this road at an important junction where it crossed the route to St Fillan’s Church at Kilallan. Above, on the summit of Corslie Hill, lay an Iron Age settlement enclosed by two circles of earthworks. Although presumably long-abandoned by c.800, this defended residence or hillfort would have retained an aura of ancient power. Likewise, the decaying turf ramparts of a small Roman fort on Barochan Hill would also have been visible in the early medieval landscape. The Roman site apparently bore the name Coria which in Brittonic means ‘place of assembly’, especially in the context of gathering an army. We can infer that the Romans borrowed this name from a place formerly used by the local Britons, the Dumnonii or Damnonii, as a muster-point for warriors. It is tempting to identify the original coria as the Iron Age settlement on Corslie Hill. Both this and its Roman neighbour may have influenced the choice of location for the later cross, whose warlike imagery would not have seemed out of place in such a setting. It is worth noting that the Fleming family, who held land at Barochan in medieval times, built their own centre of power – a small castle – on the summit of Corslie Hill.
Barochan Cross

The Barochan Cross in John Stuart’s ‘Sculptured Stones of Scotland’ of 1856 (click on image to enlarge)


Apart from the obvious fact that it is a Christian symbol, nothing in the carvings on the Barochan Cross suggests that it served a religious purpose. The imagery is secular rather than ecclesiastical. Thus, even if the four robed figures might be priests or monks, we must conclude that the monument as a whole was commissioned by a secular elite whose particular interests it vividly displayed. By analogy with similarly ornate free-standing crosses elsewhere in Scotland we could go further by suggesting that these patrons were people of royal status. Given its original location, only 12 miles from Govan and even closer to Dumbarton (Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’), we can reasonably infer that the Barochan Cross was commissioned by the royal family of Strathclyde.
Renfrewshire & the Barochan Cross

Renfrewshire and the Barochan Cross, with major secular and religious centres of the kingdom of Strathclyde.


The main panel of the cross, with its three elements or ‘registers’, seems to present a narrative or story that would have been familiar to people in the locality and to travellers passing north on their way to the ford. The image of a spear-armed rider facing an unmounted figure is reminiscent of the famous Pictish stone at Aberlemno in Angus, which describes (in three ‘registers’ telling a single narrative) a battle between horsemen and infantrymen. Pictish sculptural art had a major influence on the Govan School so it would not be surprising to find this type of martial imagery in Renfrewshire. One of the three figures in the middle of the Barochan panel holds an axe and is presumably a warrior, while the figure on the right might be blowing a trumpet during a battle, or drinking from a horn afterwards. The paired beasts below seem to be engaging in combat and might represent two opposing armies.
Barochan Cross

The main panel on the Barochan Cross


Aberlemno Pictish Stone

Warriors on the 8th century Pictish stone at Aberlemno (Copyright © B Keeling)


A tentative interpretation of the Barochan panel might see it as the celebration in stone of a famous victory gained by the Clyde Britons in the 9th century. If so, the battle in question need not have been fought in the immediate vicinity, nor indeed in the wider locality. It may be pushing a modern stereotype too far to suggest that the man with an axe is a Viking, one of the beasts is a wolf, and that the cross celebrates a military success over Scandinavian raiders in the Firth of Clyde, but the date and location would conveniently fit this context. I sometimes wonder if the four hornblowers or trumpeters on the other side might depict the Old Testament story of Joshua’s Israelites destroying the walls of Jericho, but perhaps they are simply the victorious Britons sounding a note of triumph across the firthlands of their kingdom.

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References:

Derek Alexander & Gordon McCrae (2012) Renfrewshire: a Scottish county’s hidden past (Edinburgh: Birlinn) [the Barochan Cross is described on pp.88-9]

John Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson (1903) The Early Christian monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland) [pp.455-7 of Part III] Reprinted in facsimile by the Pinkfoot Press in 1993 and still available from them (as is their excellent guide to the Govan stones).

Alan Macquarrie (2006) Crosses and upright monuments in Strathclyde: typology, dating and purpose. The 2005 Govan Lecture (Govan: Society of Friends of Govan Old)

I am grateful to Brian McGuire, founder of the community website Paisley.org.uk, for allowing me to use his photograph of the Barochan Cross.

Relevant links:
The Barochan Cross at Paisley Abbey
Nigel Cole’s video of the Barochan Cross

Those of you who are on Twitter may be interested in following these accounts:
The Govan Stones @GovanStones
Paisley.org.uk @paisleyorguk
Brian McGuire @brianmcgui
Me @EarlyScotland

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