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John Aubrey (1626-1697)

John Aubrey may have been described by his friends as, “Shiftless, roving and magotie-headed…” but he was among the first to examine and record Stonehenge, Avebury and other megalithic structures with any degree of accuracy. Writing about Avebury and Stonehenge Aubrey says, “I have brought (them) from an inner darkness to a thin mist.” Extracts from the Wikipedia entry on Aubrey describes him as –

…an English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer. He is perhaps best known as the author of the collection of short biographical pieces usually referred to as Brief Lives. He was a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and who is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury henge monument. The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge are named after him, although there is considerable doubt as to whether the holes that he observed are those that currently bear the name… He spent much of his time in the country, and in 1649 he first ‘discovered’ the megalithic remains at Avebury, which he later mapped and discussed in his important antiquarian work Monumenta Britannica. He was to show Avebury to Charles II at the King’s request in 1663.

John Aubrey’s map of Avebury

He was also a pioneer folklorist, collecting together a miscellany of material on customs, traditions and beliefs under the title “Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme”. He set out to compile county histories of both Wiltshire and Surrey, although both projects remained unfinished. His “Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum” (also unfinished) was the first attempt to compile a full-length study of English place-names. He had wider interests in applied mathematics and astronomy, and was friendly with many of the greatest scientists of the day.

Star motif over the door of the porch at The Church of St Peter, Clyffe Pypard where Aubrey visited in or around 1660

 

A guest feature by Littlestone.

The Church of St Peter, Clyffe Pypard
Image © Littlestone

John Aubrey (1626-1697) visited Clyffe Pypard in, or around, 1660 – some twelve years after his visit to Avebury where he records being, “…wonderfully surprised at the site of these vast stones, of which I had never heard before, as also the mighty bank and graffe (grass) about it.” At Clyffe Pypard he describes the Church of St Peter as, “Here is a handsome Church, and have been very good windowes.”

While the tower, nave, aisles and porch of the Church of St Peter were built in the 15th century there remains some 14th century stonework in the south porch. Further study may show that the Norman church was built on the foundations of an earlier Saxon one and, as at other subsumed (Christianised) sites, the Saxon church may have been built on a pre-Christian structure. Six of the buttresses have sarsen stones under them, only one of which has been cut to the shape of the buttress. The other five sarsens, one of which is very large, are left protruding as they do under the buttresses of the Church of St James, Avebury; the Church of St Katherine and St Peter, Winterbourne Bassett and the Church of St John the Baptist, Pewsey.

Sarsen under one of the south-facing buttresses of the Church of St Peter, Clyffe Pypard
Image © Littlestone

The Church of St Peter is situated at the bottom of a steep escarpment and is set in a well-cared for graveyard surrounded by trees.* There is a distinct air of a ‘grove’ about the place which is reminiscent of the grove, and its disordered sarsens, by the river close to Pewsey Church. The leafy and sarsen-paved footpath that leads east past the church comes out on a secluded meadow with a magnificent tree at its centre. Nearby is a stream and lake. Nikolaus Pevsner, art and architectural historian and author of The Buildings of England, is buried with his wife at a place between the lake and the church – their grave is marked by a headstone of slate.

Nikolaus and Lola Pevsner’s headstone
Image © Littlestone

About a mile from Clyffe Pypard, towards Broad Town and close to Little Town Farmhouse, is the cottage which Pevsner used as a country retreat. The cottage was formerly the home of the poet and literary critic Geoffrey Grigson, whose friends included Paul Nash and John Piper. Nash and Piper between them produced numerous paintings of Avebury, West Kennet Long Barrow, Stonehenge and other megalithic structures.**

* The ‘Clyffe’ of Clyffe Pypard refers to the adjacent escarpment. ‘Pypard’ refers to Richard Pypard who was Lord of the Manor in 1231.

** Geoffrey Grigson’s 1960s guide to touring the countryside (The Shell Country Alphabet) has been republished (see The Guardian article here).

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