|Mark Olly is a Cheshire writer and archaeologist
who runs the Celtic Warrington Project Archaeological Unit. You can
read about Mark's work in the 'Celtic Warrington & Other Mysteries'
| Knutsford's Druid Origins
| Mark Olly
The historic town of Knutsford lies in an
Ice Age river valley that ran south between 380,000 and 400,000
BC. A hand axe found in Knutsford is one of the earliest tools discovered
in Cheshire to date, and points to the presence of man and prehistoric
hunting activity in the area. If we move on from the earliest known
archaeology to the later Dark Ages we come across history relating
to the naming of the area, an issue which has always been open to
dispute and differing interpretations.
is well known, Canute, son of the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard, came
to England with his father in 1013 CE. Sweyn Forkbeard was declared
King by those whom he conquered, but encountered conflicts with
King Ethelred the Unready and Edmund Ironside before his death in
1016, whereupon the Danes proclaimed his son Canute King. Canute
then defeated Edmund in October of the same year, but Edmund died
six weeks later making Canute 'King of all England'. Canute then
supposedly forded the River Lily at Knutsford the following year,
in 1017, thus giving us the legend of how the area acquired its
name - Canute's Ford.
| The Druids
However, if we set legend aside and look to recorded history we find
a Domesday Book entry which ascribes 'waste and woodland' to the ownership
of `Erchebrand the free man'. This entry reveals that Knutsfords origins
are unrecorded, with no mention of a notable town here in 1086 when
the Domesday Book was compiled, fifty one years after Canute's death
in 1035, during which time the name of `Cvnetesford' and the town
itself would have had time to become established, as according to
is perhaps more likely that the name Cvnetesford grew from 'Carnute's
Ford' which means 'Druid's Ford'. This would more plausibly tie in
with known historical facts such as the proximity to mosslands used
by Druids with the ford facing towards Lindow Moss and Alderley Edge,
both probable Druidic sites. The longer time period that would be
allowed by this theory for the establishment of the name of the area
would also make it a more plausible theory of origin than that of
the Canute legend. It is thought that druids from all over the British
Isles met together at a 'place of the Carnutes', and this consecrated
place could lie hidden in the mosslands between Knutsford and Alderley
| Carved Stones
Two large blocks of sandstone, featuring carvings on three sides,
were discovered near the high school on Broadway in Wilmslow in
the 1980's. The first stone is the keystone of an internal arch
which measured two to three metres wide, and features a Celtic design
of curved lines, circles and dots, and the letters 'ihS' on one
side. On the other side of the keystone can be seen three borders
with a central circular boss once containing a seated, winged figure.
The top border depicts three geese, a dove and a water bird. The
middle border has the inscription, 'DEUM - LAUDA'.
lower border features a fox with a fowl, a turtle and three crocodiles.
The underside shows Celtic knotwork forming two arches with scenes.
One scene bears the word 'MARRIAGE' and the figure of a bowing lady
joining her hand to the figure of a king across the chest of a robed
and mitred figure. Behind the right shoulder of this figure is another
wearing a mitre with a maiden behind the lady and a male figure
behind the king. The other scene has the words 'VISIT OF A VIKING'
and shows a cloaked figure on the right with long hair and chain
mail, pointing skyward with his right hand. In front is a kneeling
male figure in prayer with two other figures standing behind..
The second block would have been the base of the same arch, which
probably had four blocks either side with the keystone positioned
at the middle top, making nine blocks in all. Seven are currently
missing. This block features the end of the Celtic 'ihS' design and
a robed kneeling figure in the bottom left corner with streamers containing
the inscription 'PETER AND JOHN - IN …?' below which are lines reconstructed
as '(Blessed are) Those Which are Persecuted (from My Name's Sake)'.
This figure and wording look later than 1700 and must have been part
of a carved picture next to the arch at least two blocks wide.
the other side there is a design composed of two scaly snakes passing
through hoops to form two squares and meeting at the base of the stone
facing each other. In the upper square there are three lions without
manes, one behind the other, while in the lower square there are two
Indian elephants, trunks raised. The underside features Celtic knotwork
forming an arch which contains a scene and the word `CORONATION'.
A standing figure wearing a mitre holds a crown over a cloaked figure
seated on a chair, bowing his head, and a cloaked attendant stands
behind the mitred figure holding a bowl or box.
The styles of these carvings would indicate a late Saxon date for
the three 'king scenes' with the outer faces added in Medieval times
and the writing later still, probably to explain the scenes, which
would have totalled ten in all. . It is thought that the events depicted
in these carvings may relate to the life of King Canute; conversion
to Christianity, coronation in 1017, and marriage to Emma, widow of
the Saxon King Ethelred the Unready. The Canute connection with Knutsford
may still hold answers to the origin of the town, even if the connection
proves to be of a later date and based only on legend.
It is known that the Chapel of Ease in Knutsford's King Street and
the Parochial Chapel of St Ellene and Blessed Marie of Knutsford were
built around 1300 and demolished or reconstructed in the 1740's, which
would cover the period of the carvings on the stones. Was this their
| For more information see Mark Olly's book 'Celtic
Warrington and Other Mysteries - Book 2'.
|© The contents of the 'Archaeology' section
are copyright and may not be used without permission.