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Warwickshire: Widdershins

Where is Warwickshire?

In our fifth and forty-fifth episodes, we referred to loads of interesting Warwickshire-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:

Coventry Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of Saint Michael, commonly known as Coventry Cathedral, is the seat of the Bishop of Coventry and the Diocese of Coventry within the Church of England. The cathedral is located in Coventry, West Midlands, England. The current acting bishop is Ruth Worsley and the current dean is John Witcombe.

The city has had three cathedrals. The first was St Mary's, a monastic building, from 1102 to 1539, of which only a few ruins remain. The second was St Michael's, a 14th-century Gothic church designated as a cathedral in 1918, which remains a ruined shell after its bombing during the Second World War, apart from its tower and spire, which rise to 284 feet (87 metres).

The third, consecrated in 1962, is the new St Michael's Cathedral, built immediately adjacent to the ruins and tower of the former cathedral, which is a symbol of war time destruction and barbarity, but also of peace and reconciliation.

Coventry Blue

We know that Coventry was a centre for the weaving trade in medieval times – of course! Most famously, Coventry was known for cloth dyed a particular shade of blue “… the marketing of thread… (was) regularly called Coventry blue at the time”.* But we don’t know what that shade was like.  Any archaeological cloth samples would be so affected by light and time that it wouldn’t give an indication of what Coventry blue was truly like.

We can make a good guess that the colour would make reference to the shades of blue produced by woad dyeing.  Woad is a plant which can be used to make dye –  in medieval times it would have been imported as native woad did not produce a good enough dye.* The dye chemical in the woad plant is the same as in the indigo plant which gives denim its distinctive colour, so woad dye would give a colour akin to denim blue, which of course has its own variance.

However, it would be affected by factors like how wool takes up the dye and the possible use of alum (chemical compound) as a mordant/dye fixant to brighten the dye. So – a complex process which isn’t documented anywhere and therefore can’t be repeated.

Birmingham Cathedral

Birmingham Cathedral is the third smallest cathedral in the UK, with an intriguing history.

In 1660 the population of Birmingham was around 6000 people, which rose to around 15,000 by the 1700s. This rapid growth of the town meant the existing parish church of St Martins was no longer adequate. Elizabeth Phillips gave the land on which a new parish church was built. Unusually, as a compliment to the family, the church was named St Philips.

The parish church of St Philip’s was consecrated on 4 October 1715. The building is a rare and fine example of elegant English Baroque architecture and includes a dome, volutes (scrolls), giant pilasters, oval windows, rusticated stonework and a balustrade with decorative urns.

In 1725, donations from the King enabled the construction of a tower, which incorporated a gilded cross, weather vane and orb. The weather vane includes a boar’s head, which is part of the Gough family crest. Richard Gough was the man responsible for securing the money needed for the tower’s completion.

Birmingham-born pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones designed four stained-glass windows for St Philip’s, depicting scenes from the life of Christ. Our Divine Beauty Project pages provide more information on the windows, their creator and their restoration.

Warwickshire Stew


  • 450 g stewing steak, cut into cubes

  • 6 potatoes, peeled, chopped

  • 4 carrots, peeled, chopped

  • 2 medium onions, chopped

  • 350 g tomatoes, chopped

  • 150 ml red wine

  • 2 tbsp flour

  • 2 clove(s) garlic, minced

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

  • salt and pepper, to taste


  • Preheat oven to 140°C.

  • Season the flour with, parsley, salt and pepper. Lightly dust the stewing steaks with the seasoned flour.

  • Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the floured meat and cook until lightly coloured. Then remove the meat and place in a pot.

  • Add the wine to the pan and heat gently. Add the potato and carrot chunks, onion, tomatoes and garlic and stir to combine. Add the meat and cover.

Pickled Pigeon

Pickled Pigeons, transcribed from the Mary Wise Cookbook, 18th Century (Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR341/300):

Take a dozen of fat Pidgeons some bones them some not then take another dozen & take all the meat from the strings & Skins & shread it very small & take a small handfull of the following herbs Common time Lemon time of sweet marjoram ½ a handfull Parsley a handfull then season it with pepper & nutmeggs & mace & salt to your Tast & stuff [th]e bellyes of the Pidgeons with [th]e shread meat thus seasoned Taking up the Vents & Necks boyl the Bones in water & salt & let it boyle half an hour then put in a little vinegar straining it from the Bones grating in the Pidgeons & let them Boyl an hour & very softly so so take them out & let them lye while cold so keep them in the Pickle


  • 2 pigeons

  • Thyme

  • Lemon thyme

  • Parsley

  • Sweet marjoram

  • Pepper

  • Nutmegs (ground)

  • Mace (ground)

  • Salt

  • Pickling vinegar


  • Sterilise jar/equipment by boiling to help preserve the bird.

  • De-bone one of the pigeons, ideally without cutting the skin, to leave only the top and tail open. Take the meat from the other pigeon and shred it very small.

  • Add a pinch of thyme, lemon thyme, parsley, and half a pinch of sweet marjoram to the shredded pigeon, and mix together (we used a combination of dried and fresh, depending on what we could get hold of).

  • Season this with pepper, nutmegs, mace and salt to taste.

  • Stuff the belly of the first pigeon with this mixture, and sew it up at both ends to make a parcel. Boil the pigeon-parcel gently for an hour. Check the temperature of the parcel to make sure it has been fully cooked throughout.

  • Take the pigeon out and let it cool, then put it in the pickle and keep it.

Meon Hill

Meon Hill stands in the southwest corner of Warwickshire, close to the border with Gloucestershire, and forms the northern boundary of the Cotswolds. It is the most northerly of chain of small hills, one of which - Ebrington - is the highest point in all Warwickshire, at 853 ft (about 260m) above sea level.

At an elevation of 194m on the flat top of a hill conspicuous for miles around, Meon Hill has great views across the County, especially west across the Vale of Evesham towards Bredon Hill and the Malverns, and north and west towards Stratford and Coventry.

This strategic viewpoint was doubtless one of the reasons why the hill was chosen as the site of an Iron Age hillfort, the remains of which are visible as earthworks (above and blow). As one of only two known examples of large multivallate hillforts (hillforts with two or more ditches) in Warwickshire, Meon hillfort is an example of a rare class of monument in the county.

Charismatic Satan

St Richard's Statue

Looks like Nosferatu, right? Not terribly flattering. I mean, compare...

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was a renowned English poet, playwright, and actor born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. His birthday is most commonly celebrated on 23 April (see When was Shakespeare born), which is also believed to be the date he died in 1616.

Shakespeare was a prolific writer during the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages of British theatre (sometimes called the English Renaissance or the Early Modern Period). Shakespeare’s plays are perhaps his most enduring legacy, but they are not all he wrote. Shakespeare’s poems also remain popular to this day.

His rather mustardy coat of arms...

George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans, writing under the pseudonym of George Eliot, was a highly acclaimed Victorian novelist. Fans of her work included Queen Victoria herself and even today her novels entertain and delight readers. But it wasn’t just her written works that brought her notoriety; she also courted controversy in her personal life.

The Forest of Arden

The Forest stretches up the Warwickshire / Worcestershire border, from the present-day borders of Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, across the ancient Forest of Feckenham, and down to the edge of the Vale of Evesham – the north Cotswolds to south Birmingham.

It’s a beautiful and very special part of the world, rich in history and legends, rolling green countryside, rivers, and busy market towns.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 and was used as a fortification until the early 17th century, when Sir Fulke Greville converted it to a country house.

It was owned by the Greville family, who became earls of Warwick in 1759, until 1978.

From 1088, the castle traditionally belonged to the Earl of Warwick, and it served as a symbol of his power.

The castle was taken in 1153 by Henry of Anjou, later King Henry II. It has been used to hold prisoners, including some from the Battle of Poitiers in the 14th century.

Under the ownership of Richard Neville – also known as "Warwick the Kingmaker" – Warwick Castle was used in the 15th century to imprison the English king, Edward IV.

Warwick Castle has been compared with Windsor Castle in terms of scale, cost, and status.

Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle is one of the great historical sites of the United Kingdom.

First built in the 1120s and a royal castle for most of its history, it was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted it to her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who converted the castle into a lavish palace fit to entertain his queen.

Although the castle’s fortifications were dismantled in 1650, many of the buildings remain unaltered since Elizabeth I’s reign, and the spectacular ruins reveal much of Kenilworth’s medieval and Tudor past.

The Battle of Edgehill

The first major battle of the Civil War ended with no decisive outcome, but it created the opportunity for the royalists to continue their advance on London.

The battle of Edgehill, on Sunday 23rd October 1642, saw the army of the Earl of Essex, the parliamentarian Lord General, and the King's army clash in the first major action of the Civil War in England.

It was fought in the open fields between the villages of Radway and Kineton in Warwickshire.

Lady Godiva

from the Culture Trip website:

Lady Godiva is a key figure in the history of Coventry.

The 900-year-old story was first recorded in Latin by two monks at St Albans Abbey. It was assumed these monks had heard the story from travellers making their way to the capital.

So what has made this tale transcend not just space, from the Midlands to London, but time, being part of culture for 900 years?

St George

St George might be hailed as a national hero, but he was actually born – in the 3rd century AD – more than 2,000 miles away in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey).

He is thought to have died in Lydda (modern day Israel) in the Roman province of Palestine in AD 303. It is believed that his tomb was in Lod and was a centre of Christian pilgrimage.

Dick Turpin

Georgian highwayman Dick Turpin, like America’s Jessie James or Australia’s Ned Kelly, lives on in our collective imagination more as a myth than as a man.

Nearly everything we know about him – or think we know about him – is false. He didn’t make a midnight ride to York, his faithful horse wasn’t named Black Bess, and he certainly wasn’t a Robin Hood-like figure.

The Holy Grail?

The Beast of Barford

Casts of a mysterious paw print found on a Warwickshire farm are on show at a county museum.

Resin casts have been made of the print which was dug from the mud after a panther-like creature was seen snatching a pheasant from Wasperton Farm, in Barford, near Warwick, in November 2004.

The five-inch long, four-inch wide print is twice the size of a dog print and clearly shows three huge claws and a large pad at the back.

Wildlife experts said at the time that the sensational find was the most conclusive evidence yet that big cats were roaming Warwickshire...

The Red Horse of Tysoe

The origin of the horse is not known but some indication of it origin has been speculated about.

The horse was cut on the orders of the Earl of Warwick as a monument to his horse which he killed at the Battle of Towston, Yorkshire in 1461. Legend has it that the Earl of Warwick was losing the battle and to prove to his men he would not leave he killed his horse, and fought shoulder to shoulder with his men, this was the turning point of the battle and he won.

He had the horse cut in memory of this and set up a fund for the annual repair on the Palm Sunday (Anniversary of the Battle.)

Another theory has it that the Angles cut it and the smaller horse II when they colonised the stour valley in AD 600, it was used as a offering to fecundicity and fruitfulness.

There have been 5 horses cut into Edgehill scarp at two different sites, the hangings and spring hill. Some details are known about all these horses but the accuracy of these details cannot be evaluated.

Indications are that the horses were crudely cut by stripping the turf off to reveal the red soil underneath and not the rock as the soil is quite thick on the escarpment. The horses would have to be well maintained and this may be the reason for their loss.

The Rollright Stones

This complex of megalithic monuments lies on the boundary between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, on the edge of the Cotswold hills. They span nearly 2000 years of Neolithic and Bronze age development and each site dates from a different period.

The oldest, the Whispering Knights dolmen, is early Neolithic, circa 3,800-3,500 BC, the King's Men stone circle is late Neolithic, circa 2,500 BC; and the King Stone is early to middle Bronze Age, circa 1,500 BC.

The Stones are made of natural boulders of Jurassic oolitic limestone which forms the bulk of the Cotswold hills. This stone has been used extensively in the region for building everything from churches and houses to stone walls. The boulders used to construct the Rollright Stones were probably collected from within 500m of the site.

Guy of Warwick

The myth of Sir Guy of Warwick has been well known for centuries in Britain and France.

The oldest surviving record of it from a 13th-century romance poem; it became an iconic romance tale of the Middle Ages.

In the story, Felice, the daughter of an earl, attracts the attention of Guy, but his lower social status prevents marriage. Guy is defiant and becomes a knight to win her affection through acts of courageous chivalry, defeating quintessentially English mythical monsters like the Dun Cow (a giant cow rampaging the English countryside) and dragons; he fights in battles throughout Europe and makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Gawain tells the story of a young knight at the legendary court of King Arthur.

The poem opens with a description of a Christmas feast at Camelot, the Arthurian court. During the feast a mysterious green knight, with green hair and green skin, riding a green horse, arrives and challenges the assembled crowd to a bizarre game, which sets off a chain of events in which Gawain faces trials and temptations.

Erec and Enide

Erec and Enide is a book-length poem written by French poet Chrétien de Troyes around the year 1170.

The poem is one of Chrétien’s series of so-called Arthurian romances - a genre of poem in the Middle Ages that told the stories of the individuals associated with King Arthur’s court.

His poems are among the earliest to refer to King Arthur and his knights, and Erec and Enide focuses on the adventures of the knight Erec.

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