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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' volumes.

 

Knutsford's Druid Origins
by
Mark Olly

 
Knutsford History

 
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.
 
As 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 legend.
 
It 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 Edge.
 
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'. 
The 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..
 

Second Stone
 
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.
 
On 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.
 
Dating
  
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 origin?

 
For more information see Mark Olly's book 'Celtic Warrington and Other Mysteries - Book 2'.
 
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