Lichfield - Coventry - Reading : Midlands - Reading


                                                          Lichfield - Coventry - Reading : Midlands - Reading 


   Peter Robins : Midlands to Reading : from the Midlands through the Thames gap to Reading


  The obvious centre of the Midlands nowadays is Birmingham. However, this was only small in medieval times. Coventry was a larger commercial centre and an important ecclesiastical centre and pilgrimage destination. But Lichfield had the more important shrine, of St Chad, and was the seat of the bishop for most of the Middle Ages, so we will start there. A footpath leads from the cathedral (a foundation of secular canons) to his holy well, which is by the church of St Chad, where his oratory was, ca 1km to the NE at Stowe (which means 'holy place').


  The obvious route SE from Lichfield is Watling St, which passes just to the S of Lichfield at Wall. However, this is now a major road, so much more walker-friendly is to use the towpath of the Coventry Canal, to Tamworth. This was home to the royal palace of Mercia, and at Wigginton the chapel of St James later became a spital. The canal passes through the grounds of Benedictine Alvecote Priory, now a picnic area; a doorway and dovecote remain of the priory buildings. Next is Polesworth, where the parish church is a descendant of the originally Saxon Benedictine nunnery church.


  The canal crosses Watling St at Atherstone, where the chancel and tower of the parish church remain from the Augustinian friary. To the S are the remains of the former Cistercian abbey of Merevale.


  The name of Nuneaton recalls the former Benedictine nunnery, a cell of Fontevrault, the slight remains of which are in the parish church of St Mary. On the N outskirts, the village of Weddington has a (largely Victorian) church of St James.


  The canal will take you right into the centre of Coventry; on the way, to the E, the villages of Bulkington and Ansty both have a medieval church of St James. In Coventry itself, the modern cathedral is on the site of a Benedictine nunnery. See here for an imaginary account of a medieval pilgrim arriving in Coventry, where there were various other monastic foundations, notably the Franciscan friary, the tower of which is now part of Christ Church, as well as several hospitals. The Carmelite friary became a workhouse and later an infirmary, and there are some vestiges of the Charterhouse SE of the city centre. At Spon, W of the city centre, was a chapel of St James and St Christopher, and to the E at Willenhall, the chapel of St James was built for pilgrims approaching Coventry from the S.


  Leave to the S, perhaps via Stivichall or Styvechale, which has a church of St James, to Stoneleigh, where the gatehouse survives of the Cistercian abbey. To the W is Kenilworth, where the gatehouse also remains of the Augustinian abbey.


  The Centenary Way will take you to Warwick, where the heavily restored chantry chapel of St James, built over the W Gate, survives. Just to the N, Old Milverton has a church of St James. The Centenary Way continues E along the Grand Union Canal and then heads S to Avon Dassett. A slight detour will take you to Southam, which has a C13 church of St James and also a celebrated Holy Well, which is easily reached by footpath. From Avon Dassett, head E to Claydon. This has a church of St James the Great, and close by is a farmhouse which incorporates what remains of the Gilbertine priory of Clattercote. Continue S on the Oxford Canal towpath to Banbury, just W of which the scant remains of Augustinian Wroxton priory are incorporated in Wroxton Abbey, now part of an American university.


  Continuing on the Oxford Canal, at King's Sutton is the well of St Rumbald, who was born here, and whose shrine in Buckingham became popular; originally, Buckingham church was a chapel-of-ease to King's Sutton. Further on, the village of Aynho had a pilgrims hospital in medieval times, dedicated to St James, though nothing remains of it (the church of St Michael looks more like a stately home). Nearby Clifton's (Victorian) church of St James has been converted into offices, but Somerton still has a largely C14 one.


  Before Oxford is Wolvercote, where a short detour takes you to the ruins of the former Benedictine nunnery at Godstow. To the W, Wytham Abbey is post-medieval and not an abbey, but further W again, at Eynsham, was a Benedictine abbey, though nothing remains of it.


  In Oxford itself, the cathedral unusually also serves as the chapel of Christ Church College. It was originally the Augustinian priory of St Frideswide, whose (rebuilt) shrine can be seen there. Various other colleges are based on medieval monastic buildings, but little or nothing remains of such important buildings as Osney's Augustinian priory or the Cistercian abbey of Rewley. Cowley, famous for the Morris factory, has a church of St James dating from the C12.


  Take the Thames Path S to Radley, with a C14 church of St James the Great (further photos here), and Abingdon, where the fine gatehouse and various other buildings survive of the Benedictine abbey. Further on, Dorchester-on-Thames (do not confuse with Dorset's Dorchester) was in Saxon times the site of a see, later transferred to Lincoln. In the C12, an Augustinian abbey was founded which housed the popular shrine of St Birinus. Of the abbey, the church and a monastic building survive, and the shrine is again the site of an annual pilgrimage.


  W of Wallingford, Sotwell's chapel of St James is a Victorian rebuild which includes parts, noticeably the roof, of the medieval church. Continue S to Goring and Reading (see Icknield Way page).


  April 2005



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                                                           delhommeb at -  25/12/2016