Volume II | Chapter 4 |
Topography and Distribution of Anglian-Period SculpturesNext Back to catalogue index
by R.J.Cramp

The picture of Anglian settlement in Cumbria, as already sketched, is woefully indistinct, relying as it does largely on place-names and the evidence of stray finds. With the exceptions of Carlisle and the current work at Dacre, not a single Anglian site has been extensively excavated, and even there evidence is very fragmentary (O'Sullivan 1980, 119–69; McCarthy 1982; see above, p. 3).

The distribution of Anglian sculpture is explicable in general terms when considered in relation to topography, known Roman and native settlement sites and early Anglian place-names. Thus the Bewcastle cross which, like Beckermet St Bridget 1, Irton 1, and Waberthwaite 2, seems to be set in its original position to the south of the present church, is located in the midst of a Roman fort. The importance of the site at Bewcastle can perhaps best be explained as a border gathering place, one of the pre-Roman centres of the cult of Cocidius, which probably remained an important centre in the post-Roman period, like the site at Yeavering (Cramp 1983a, 275–8). The Tyne-Solway gap was from prehistoric times an important east-west passage and the cross, which is the most impressive survival from the Anglian period in Cumbria, reflects this situation in its stylistic links west to Dumfriesshire, and east to Durham and Northumberland.

Something of the importance of the Roman past can best explain the survival of the massive architectural carvings from Falstead and Dalston, close to Carlisle. Carlisle itself has so far yielded no evidence of sub-Roman Christianity, but the founding of a monastery in what may have been a semi-deserted city in the seventh century is an event which is paralleled elsewhere in Roman centres such as York or Gloucester. The inscribed cross-heads, Carlisle 1 and 2, are plausibly monuments from a monastic cemetery, possibly in the region of St Cuthbert's church (McCarthy 1982, 255). A combination of the survival of Roman roads and concentration of the native population can well explain the siting of the other centres with surviving sculpture.

The rich low-lying lands of the Eden valley were densely settled (Higham and Jones 1975, 37–41), and in addition a major Roman road ran up from Lancaster to Carlisle and was linked in the upper Eden with routes which led to Yorkshire and the low-lying Bowes-Brough routes across the Pennines; the upper Eden valley linked with the Tyne-Solway gap. Addingham, which is an early -ham name, could well represent an Anglian, possibly monastic, implantation in this region, while Kirkby Stephen is probably an ancient centre, near to the area which the first pagan Anglians settled (O'Sullivan 1980, 174–94) but which may have retained some vestiges of early Christianity, as the long cist burial testifies. Its fine Anglian sculpture and continuance (as a burial ground) into the Viking period testifies to its importance. Penrith and Lowther, which retain their Celtic names, might have been complementary sites, Lowther as a religious gathering place with a fine natural amphitheatre and probably seat of a local ruler; Penrith, then, as now, situated in a nodal position in the route network, a marketing centre. Near by Dacre, similarly with a surviving Celtic name, was a monastery (see above, p. 3).

The importance of the Kent valley region, which communicated with the Irish Sea and the Lancashire plain, is demonstrated by the surviving crosses from Kendal and Heversham. The last named was a monastery (see p. 6), but it might have been twinned with some centre such as Levens, which has produced Saxon pottery from as yet unpublished excavations.

The importance of the western coastal plain, which increased in the Viking age, is evident even in the Anglian period. Collingwood noted that Irton and Waberthwaite '. . . stand on the two sides of the great natural harbour of Ravenglass, where the Romans had a fort and probably in Anglian times there was some shipping' (Collingwood 1927a, 111). The anchorage here with the Roman road leading to the hinterland could have remained important in the subsequent period.

Workington could well have been a port of trade even then, and Brigham, further east along the important Derwent valley, would seem to have been an important ecclesiastical centre since the site has produced a notable group of sculpture. Beckermet St Bridget and Waberthwaite are sited in accessible river valleys, while Urswick was perhaps a marketing centre in the midst of a densely settled area in the Furness peninsula (Bailey 1974a, i, map 2). Much of the trade in the pre-Viking period could have been coastal, but the connection seen in the sculpture of the region, from Dumfriesshire, through Lancashire to Yorkshire, is some indication of how overland links may have operated.

How important the contact between Cumbria and the Isle of Man or Ireland was in the pre-Viking period is unclear. Stylistically, crosses in the western plains, such as Urswick 1, Beckermet St Bridget 1, and Waberthwaite 1, seem to be best paralleled further south in the English mainland. Only at Irton is there a notable taste for 'Celtic' ornament. But throughout the period there are noteworthy links between this region and south-west Scotland, where the monuments from Ruthwell, Hoddom, Thornhill, and Closeburn demonstrate close stylistic links with the Cumbrian Anglian centres.

The distribution of Anglian crosses serves, then, to emphasize the importance of the region as that area of greater Northumbria which provided an outlet to the western seas and as the part which was most closely in touch with the Scottish church.

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