6 – Eamoton
Yesterday noontime, after leaving Brierfield library, I basked once more in the epic views of the scintillatingly-lit sun-swept hills & valleys of east lancashire, allbeit from the busy central road that binds Pendle City together like a piece of cotton-woven thread. First up was Nelson, which is rather like the Brick Lane of London, full of spicy streets & colorful shops – with an increasing Polish element down to the fact you can rent a two-bedroomed terrace for as little as £50 a week (they’re £85 in Burnley).
After Nelson comes Colne, named after the Roman station called Calunio in the Ravenna Cosmography, which appears to the advancing walker rather like some Tuscan hill-town. Colne is the ‘West End’ of Pendle City – a little boutique Tunbridge-Wellsian world with three theaters, cool coffee-shops & the annual, internationally renowned rhythm & blues festival. Its most famous son is Wallace Hartley, the guy who kept playing the violin to the very end as the Titanic sunk around him. Also from Colne was the grandmother of John Keats – Alice Whalley Jennings – who brought our young poet up on a diet of Lancashire hot-pot, a recipe probably quite similar to my own granny’s.
Passing through Colne I came to Laneshaw Bridge, an idyllic wee place right on the edge of Bronte country. As I turned east, the great snowy moor that I conject is Vinheath appeared before me, gouged by giants claws which form the headwaters of Colne’s river system. My reason for being here was to track down an anciently famous well & cross. In the last post I showed how the Anglo-Saxons had been heading North under Edward, & period of conquest crowned on a single occasion when the kings of Britain met at an unknown place & swore fealty to him. The ASC for 924 reads;
And the King of Scotland, with all his people, chose him as father and lord; as did Reynold, and the son of Eadulf, and all that dwell in Northumbria, both English and Danish, both Northmen and others; also the king of the Strathclydwallians, and all his people.
For the next year, the final entry in the Mercian register reads, ‘A.D. 925. This year died King Edward at Farndon in Mercia; and Elward his son died very soon after this, in Oxford. Their bodies lie at Winchester.’ It was the end of an epoch & the start of an empire. When Edward had ascended to the throne, he had held only Wessex. Now his ‘little illegitimate’, Athelstan, would inherit all of England south of the Humber-Ribble line. He immediately set to work on his power-politics. The Mercian Register continues, ‘Athelstan was chosen king in Mercia, and consecrated at Kingston.’
His reign would be relatively short, yet in that brief span of fifteen years his achievements were many. Overshadowed by his famous grandfather, Alfred the Great, he nevertheless deserves respect of at least an equal nature. It was he who really created the England as we know it, stretching her borders & bequeathing the nation an international respect. As the English Rose sprang from the bed soil cultivated by Alfred, it was Athelstan who showered it with regal rain & the sunlight of, ‘his hair yellow, beautifully braided with golden wires.‘
Returning to 925, in those days oaths of fealty were made to a person, not a to a country, & the death of Edward had freed Constantine & the others of their bondship. Athelstan was on this situation in a flash, & launched some punitive attacks against the kings of Britain, in order to show them he meant business. The Chronicle of Melrose tells us, ‘He conquered in battle & put to flight the King of the Britons also, Higuel, & Constantine, king of the Scots, & Owen king of Gwent. And they asked peace from him, & made a treaty with himconfirmed by an oath.’ The ASCsheds more light on that peace treaty & oath;
A.D. 926. This year appeared fiery lights in the northern part of the firmament; and Sihtric departed; and King Athelstan took to the kingdom of Northumbria, and governed all the kings that were in this island: — First, Howel, King of West-Wales; and Constantine, King of the Scots; and Owen, King of Monmouth; and Aldred, the son of Eadulf, of Bamburgh. And with covenants and oaths they ratified their agreement in the place called Eamoton, on the fourth day before the ides of July; and renounced all idolatry, and afterwards returned in peace.
There is no such place as Eamoton today, but there is the Emmot Estate near Colne. The older locals in the area pronounce it Ee-ah-mut, in line with the Old English pronunciation of Eamoton. This pretty place is practically the heart of the island, with John o’ Groats & Land’s End equidistant, a perfect site for such a grand meeting of Britain’s kings. The Emmot family, by the way, is by far the oldest in the district – their origins being lost in the mists of time. The main settlement is the village of Laneshaw Bridge – which was called Eamot for centuries. It is significant that the borders of Strathclyde, Northumbria & Mercia all meet here, while a Roman road passes just a few miles to the North, giving Emmot easy access to the twin Viking capitals of York & Dublin. There is also an ancient road leading south from Emmot – through Trawden, Colne, Castercliffe, & over Shelfield Hill – to Burnley itself.
During my studies I had read that in the grounds of Emmot estate there was an ancient cross, one of the two main articles needed when Christianizing a pagan. The other, the holy waters of baptism, are found at Emmot’s famous well, Hallown. Its name must hark back to 835, when Pope Gregory IV introduced the festival of All-Hallows on the first of November. Being inundated with saints & saints days, he decided to put one day a year aside to worship them all. I soon arrived at Emmot estate from Laneshaw bridge, whose main house was long ago knocked down. Coming to ‘Upper Emmot House,’ I caught a cutish woman leaving in her range rover just in time, who directed me to Hullown lake, where I could find the well, & told me that the cross had been moved to Colne Parish library. Following a wee lane, I soon came to a beautiful, wee body of water, a haven for paying anglers, where just beside its shores I found a rather large well.
The crucial supporting evidence for Emmot being Eamoton comes through this well. The kind lady in the range rover had told me that people used to come here since at least the 1100s to be baptised. This connects with William Malmesbury’s description of the events at Eamoton, in which Athelstan takes a son of Constantine hostage;
Out of regard to this treaty, the king himself stood for the son of Constantine, who was ordered to be baptized, at the sacred font
Is this sacred font the Hallown? The ASC states that the kings ‘renounced all idolatry,’ just as the local pagans had done at the same well in 835. The well itself is man-made, with solid walls of stout stone, 18 foot by 16 foot, & nine foot deep, with steps leading to the bottom where JT Maquis describes stone flags, ‘with nine holes in them, from which the water bubbles up with terrific force.’ The waters themselves, fed by powerful streams, are supposed to have healing properties, including a reputation for healing reumatism,’ & a hundred years ago, Henry Taylor wrote, ‘Mrs Pennington (a former resident of Emmot Hall) told me that this well is still frequented for its healing properties.’
It was a cool moment, so early in my dig, to feel that I was on the very spot where modern Britain was born – it is such a magnificent, moody place, the whispers of those great speeches still chittering in the heather when the winds blow oer the moors. In context of the Brunanburh campaign, the humilation felt by Constantine at Emmot could well have driven him to chose that very place to march & camp the confederate army – basically saying to Athelstan ‘last time I was here you took my son hostage, this time Im gonna kill yours,‘ kinda vibe
I walked back to Colne utiising an alternative route – up over the hill of Laneshawbridge & down towards the vasty Alma Inn. Turning left I came to a certain Castle Road, & wondered why it was named so… perhaps there was some sort of fortification in the area. I finally returned to Colne via its cricket club, & just as the sun was setting obtained a photograph of the Emmot cross. Of this, JT Maquis writes that it consists of, ‘a square socket-stone about one foot nine inches in height & three feet nine inches square. On this is an octaganol shaft about seven feet in height, with a capital of the same shape eight inches in height. This shaft will be ten inches in diameter at the base, tapering to eight inches under the capital… by climbing up the tree that leans over it we ascertained that there is a socket-hole in the capital for image, crucifix, or cross, six inches by five inches & about four inches in depth… it has some half obliterated cyphers on the capital, which Dr Whitaker declares to be the IHS & the Omega.’
Then, a bus-ride & a few beers & a fine Indian takeaway from ‘Padiham gourmet’ later I was back in Burnley, jamming with Black Pontiac, members of whose band are going to help me get the Kae-Lei Krew up & running once more. The drummer, Christian, is playing in this song (I’m on bass).
Taylor, Henry – The ancient crosses & holy wells of lancashire (1906)