The Scarlett Merchant Mark part 1

Dragon from Wiston (wallpainting of the Dragon/ Wyrm)
People go to Wormingford to romanticise about Dragons . After all, it was a dragon that terrorised the countryside and gave the village its name.

Bures, Wiston and Wormingford all lay various claims to this beast, and the locals postulate about whether the Wyrm was really a dragon, or an escaped crocodile from the royal menagerie in London... and whether or not the body of the Dragon lies in the silty bottom of the Mere.

 But I went to Wormingford because it is mentioned in Violet Pritchard's book "English Medieval Graffiti".
17th c "JS" "CS" and "RT"

I wasn't expecting to have my imagination captured by several sets of  17th c initials and a date of 1673... despite it keeping good company with something called a "Merchant mark". The graffiti scratches are sometimes light, sometimes heavy. I had to use a really strong raking light and lots of contrast to get some of them. That globe shape with a flag or a backwards number 4 protruding from the top would appear to be the merchant mark of the Scarletts.

"TS 1673" and merchant mark
Merchant marks are different from Mason's marks, often being more elaborate than the straight angular lines made by the masons. The merchant mark was used by individuals, families and guilds to identify themselves and their wares.

I've seen merchant marks before. They aren't that unusual. The Springs of Lavenham used quite a numeric looking mark (they were involved in the cloth trade and were wealthy enough to have their bequests to the church memorialised on a boss incorporated into the rood screen).

Paycockes' merchant mark

The Paycockes of Coggeshall employed a three ball split stave as their mark.  I like the way that the Paycockes' mark is contained within a shield. It is like a poor man's coat of arms (or should I say a *well to do* middle class but *not quite knightly* faux coat of arms).


"SH" "T Scarlett 1673" and merchant mark
The merchant marks at Wormingford would suggest that the Scarlett family have been busy.
T. Scarlett appears twice with the merchant mark and at least once with just his initials. I suppose that this doesn't mean that the same person scratched all the TS graffiti. I'm assuming here that T stands for Thomas. But Thomas could have been a name shared by grandfather, father and son.

So I started with an assumption and a date. It is as good a place as any to start, and if nothing else gives a bit of context. The restoration of Charles II had occurred some thirteen years previously. The Great Plague and Fire of London only eight and seven years before. The Test Act of 1673 which excluded from public office all those who refused to take the oath of allegiance, or receive communion according to the rituals of the Church of England and renounce the doctrine of transubstantiation showed how much religious tension there was within the kingdom. 

Then I decided to go sideways. Where would I find online records that would be likely to capture wealthy merchant families? What resource could I use? Then I realised, I had spoken with the keyholder who had told me quite a bit about his life including his schooling...Check the schools!
very faint "C Scarlett 1673"

Well actually check the one school. The Colchester Royal Grammar. The same school that the keyholder had attended has provided some sort of education for the surrounding district since 1206.

This is what I found...firstly a C. Scarlett who was admitted to the school on the 25th of June 1672. That wasn't the name I was looking for but it did marry up with one of the other Scarlett names.

Then C Scarlett became one "Christopher Scarlett" and was joined by a "Thomas Scarlett" and finally a "John Scarlett". Interesting, not in the least because the funny I initial with the cross bar is the seventeenth century way of representing a J.

So we have a JS a C Scarlett and a T Scarlett all in graffiti in the pillars, all cropping up in the Grammar school records.
Very faint "TS"

Finally I found that the sons of John Scarlett (gentleman) and Frances (his wife) the first being born at (West) Bergholt in 1659, the second at Wormingford born 1660 and the third at Copford? born 1662 were all admitted to the Grammar. The first in his 14th year, the middle boy in his 13th year and the third in his 11th year.

This might all be pure co-incidence, but if it isn't then why were three Grammar schoolboys scratching their names, and a merchant mark on the pillars of the church where the middle boy was born?

A middle boy who it is recorded "excels the two others in ability and industry".... and the trail doesn't end there - there is a 17th c house called Scarletts in West Bergholt that needs some investigation.


Arrows and an Archer...

Students of design will understand that there are basic elements underpinning all motifs: these building blocks are the visual equivalent of the Jungian archetype that is hardwired into every human brain. Give a child a stick, or even their finger in a sand tray and they will produce a dot, a line, a cross, a spiral.

The arrow is one of these basic conceptions. Linear, and making the most of the plane in which is it formed, the arrow is easily recognised,  it focuses the eye to the direction of travel and quite literally makes a point.

Why am I telling you the obvious about arrows? The reason is that they crop up in ecclesiastical graffiti all the time, and I have no idea why. This particularly bothers me when I'm presented with a doorway full of the things, like at Buxhall church.

The arrows travel up one side, with maybe the remains of a couple of short arm crosses interspersed for good measure; carry on over the top and then do the same on the other side. If I let my imagination go I could believe that the whole doorway is literally being "covered by protective arrow fire". If indeed arrows mean protection at all!

They could just as easily mean "this way up" to the builder putting together the arch.


Then there is the Archer (this was the graffiti I had come to find). There is something a little risky about archers. They are dangerous and dangerous isn't too far from desirable in the dictionary. Archers don't have to get up close and personal to do damage, they are quite capable of piercing you from a good way away before you even realise what is happening. I suspect this is the reason Cupid was given darts.

 It didn't take long to find the archer in question - although I can't quite equate him with dangerous, not with that almost Halloween pumpkin shaped head and pointy carrot nose....
...and here is his "target".
So now I am now going to quote from the church information leaflet "At the time of the Great Plague of London in 1665, an Act of Parliament ordered that every public building in the country be given two coats of whitewash. During restoration work in 1923, as the pillars were brushed down removing the whitewash, several drawings and carvings were revealed on the pillar of the tower arch......One of these shows an archer with his bow and target and probably refers to the Beau-Archer family recorded as living here in the seventeenth century".

Christ as craftsman of the cosmos
Cathedral Museum Toledo 1252-70
Here is the crux of the thing. Like everyone else, I interpret things through my own particular sociocentric lens. I don't think any of us are trying to mislead, it is just we see what we want to see. We can't help it.

My problem is, having looked at a few churches now I've seen that "target" often enough *not* to recognise it as a target.

It is a series of concentric circles, possibly (but not exclusively) drawn with a pair of compasses....and it might mean a lot of things.

For instance - a microcosm (think of Dante's circles of heaven and hell). God is sometimes shown drawing the world into being with a circle, or maybe it is a perfect form, an unbroken line, a protection mark, an illustration of the celestial music of the spheres....

Then there is the archer himself.  We look for clues in the areas around a graffito. But what if there is no relationship between them? If that bow wasn't there then the "target" looks less like a target.

I'm not convinced yet.



Yah Boo Shucks to the Demonic Dog

I'm not scared of dogs - one member of my family has about six black dogs (I can't count them all to be sure as  they keep moving around). Dogs which break over you like a black wave when he opens the door. They are all very well trained and soft mouthed really. One of them can pick up a fresh laid egg without leaving so much as a scratch on its shell....this is true......but I digress...

photo from Wiki
Black dogs and churches and East Anglia go together in a much more sinister way. The Black Shuck is a spectral dog, larger than most, with hollow glowing eyes the size of saucers; and to meet him is to court misfortune. If you even so much as hear him howling it is best to turn the other way quickly.

Although the Shuck has been seen in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, the Fens and Essex I think Suffolk have the best claim to him. The good Reverend Fleming documented what happened during a terrible storm in 1577 when the Shuck manifested itself in Suffolk "A straunge, and terrible wunder wrought very late in the parish church of Bongay"

Strange and terrible indeed. Whether the Shuck is a demon or the Devil or a remnant of Odin's wild hunt, the creature is undoubtedly a killer. Not content with causing public disorder at Bungay he carried onto Blythburgh, taking the fury of an electrical storm with him. He burst into the church; burnt the North door with his red hot nails, and ran up and down the aisles disrupting the service. Before he left he killed two parishoners by breaking their necks swiftly backwards in his vice like jaws and finally caused the tower to topple. That's the sort of behaviour that'll get you remembered!

But why am I going on about the Shuck? Simple - he is a spectre, here one second and gone the next. A bit like the dog at Buxhall.

Buxhall is beautiful, it has lots of lovely distracting graffiti on its West tower pillars, all perfectly visible to the naked eye... and a dog that isn't.

Here is the door that the dog is on, can you see much? Look top left on the stone. I ran my light over it twice as there was an odd little graffito that I couldn't work out. Then I asked if I could be shut in and the lights turned off. It works wonders for showing up every scratch and mark.

Then I ran my light around the door frame again -  jumped out of my skin (I might have exclaimed a bit too!)

 See here - a dog appearing from nowhere like a ghost on the stone...
What makes him demonic? That forked tongue does it for me. Oh and he seems to be wearing a cape and a collar. Make of that what you will. Maybe fashionable dog wear isn't just a 21st c trend?

Buxhall's demons

He may be a demon - he may not, but that is a face that only a mother could love.
The image is exaggerated, the noise sharply pointed and the teeth bared. His ear protrudes like a handle from the back of his head and the eyes are lidded and lined. As for the hair - well that's just something else!

In short, he is totally different from some of the other presentations of people you can find on church walls. Take this chap for example - being a neighbour on the very next pillar along, but totally different. Much more realistic, and in possession of a very firm jaw. He's reliable looking, sober, sporting a fine hat (which looks like a burgundian hood). Now that's a face you could take home to your mother, not like the first punk I showed you.

This one has the same eyes as the first face, but has a cross scratched over it. This brings to mind something that Matt Champion mentioned in his lecture on medieval graffiti. That sometimes demons are pinned to walls with five pointed stars....

                      and I wondered - was this a personal demon pinned to the wall with a cross?

Once you let them in they start coming at you from all over the place. Buxhall is a gallery of eyes, watching, waiting.

They come in all sizes too; this medium one is easy to miss, but really he is just a smaller version of his brother next to him. Same collar, same shaped head and family nose. Same intent?

Whereas this face is tiny, just a few centimetres high, sadly still hollow eyed. Staring blankly out to left field, unblinking through the limewash. I'm finding it infernally difficult to get the scale to stick - the lime sucks out all moisture and leaves powder all over everything. The scale clatters to the floor again and I don't really want to turn my back on the faces to pick it up.

Some of them have the audacity to look forwards, and stare you down defiantly.  
This one almost has a cartoon quality yet still manages a modicum of menace. I think it is the flat line of the mouth that does it.
The face on the left has another cross over his face and is positioned just below a protection mark of concentric circles. The hat  is curious... a pointed head and a skullcap.  I make a mental note to keep an eye open for this kind of headgear.
However, I'm going to finish with this couple. They are surveying the scene from quite high on the pillar. One is definitely an older chap. He has wild tufts of hair in male pattern baldness and is looking over the shoulder of the other person. Now you would think that his companion is a female figure with those loose locks, but the hair is a problem. Hair was usually under a coif, and although there is a cap, female hair would have been braided and hidden, not left loose. I can't place the costume either.

That's fine, I'll add it to the research.

St Peter on the wall

There is a church out on the edge of the marsh. After it was a church it was a barn and now it is a church again. It is built out of rubble from a Roman fort.... and it has stood here since 654 AD. That is why I am here, I want to see one of the oldest, from way back when. 
Way back when in 635 AD  monks travelled  from Ireland, settled in Lindisfarne and some 18 years later a Saxon man educated at Lindisfarne called Cedd sailed from there down the East coast to Bradwell in Essex. First he build a church of wood, then one of stone.
He became a bishop and a saint. He died of the plague. 

There was some graffiti, which looked like ears of corn. There is no clue as to when or where the graffiti was originally made. With the rubble being reused there is nothing to say that the markings hadn't originally been in the Roman fort!