Volume II | Chapter 6 | Anglian-Period OrnamentNext Back to catalogue index
by R.J.Cramp

PLANT-SCROLLS (G.I., pp. xxiv, xxviii, and figs. 10–13)


Uninhabited plant scrolls are the dominant motif of the Anglian period in Cumbria and demonstrate a variety and individuality which is unsurpassed in other regions of Northumbria.

The large architectural fragments from Falstead and Dalston are decorated with medallion scrolls enclosing grape bunches and leaves with curling tips, which are closely dependent on Roman models. These inert and pedantic renderings of the motif have no surviving successors in the region.2

The elegant and varied plant forms on the Bewcastle cross are equally isolated in relation to southern Cumbria, although some of the details of the leaves, and composite creations of stamens, seeds, flowers, and leaves, can be paralleled in the inhabited scrolls elsewhere, as at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire (Ills. 682, 685–7), Jarrow, co. Durham, Rothbury, Northumberland, and Jedburgh, Roxburghshire (see Fig. 5). The cross from Brigham (no. 2), however, which also includes in its ornamental repertoire composite fruit and leaves, provides a hint that Bewcastle's scrolls may once have had closer parallels in the west; whilst the Irton scrolls combine in a hesitant way several of the foliate motifs which appear earlier at Bewcastle. In the uppermost panel of the northern face of the Bewcastle cross the deeply cut, veined, triangular leaves are also reminiscent of Jarrow work. A confident monumental quality distinguishes all of the Bewcastle plant scrolls, including the distinctive crossing or bound medallions where the side tendrils develop into elaborate coils. The plant forms on this cross seem to find their ultimate origin in the Christian east, where short panels of large-scale scrolls such as are found on faces B and C at Bewcastle, occur in wood, stone, or mosaic work (Forsyth and Weitzmann 1973, pl. XLIX, c, d). Nevertheless it is difficult to locate areas of influence too precisely, since lush leaf-flowers occur in all regions influenced by Byzantine art, and so much metropolitan Byzantine art has been lost.

The distinctive form of scroll at Bewcastle which begins as a bush, and then develops into a medallion, could be remotely compared with Workington 1 and Penrith 1, although on both the leaves or fruit are totally different. The 'fruit' bunches at Penrith (no. 1) are most closely paralleled on a stone sculpture from Norham (Ill. 675), or – in another medium – on the binding of the Stonyhurst Gospels (Kendrick 1938, pl. XLIII (1)). Bush and medallion scrolls are apparently favoured motifs in Cumbria but their stylistic treatment is remarkably varied, and could well reflect motifs from other media such as metalwork or manuscripts. For example, the Kirkoswald brooch (Ill. 678), which is decorated by side-linked scrolls, provides good evidence for the popularity of the bush scroll motif in the region, attested on Carlisle 1, Penrith 1 and Workington 1, and later on Addingham 2 and Beckermet St Bridget 1. The long continuance of this type of scroll explains the development of the spiral-scroll school in the later period (see below, pp. 35–6).

One must, however, beware of creating too many simple linear relationships for this popular motif when organization, cutting and layout point to influences operating in one direction, and motif details in another. The Addingham spiral scrolls can be widely paralleled in Yorkshire and Lancashire in form and style, but certain other pieces are more individual. Lowther 1, face C, contains a spiral scroll with drop-leaf which is like Hexham 1, Northumberland, in its general arrangement and fine strand cutting, but is not like it in its individual motifs (Cramp 1984, pls. 173; 175, 917; 219, 1240). Certainly the layout of scrolls which fill the whole face of the crosses at Lowther (nos. 1–2), Heversham (no. 1), and Kendal, may be compared with the best productions of Hexham, especially no. 1. This is in distinct contrast to Bewcastle where the sections of scroll are fitted into panels alongside geometric motifs, an arrangement best paralleled in eastern Bernicia (Cramp 1984, 27).

Distinctive also of the fine scrolls of the west are split stems, crisply coiled side tendrils, and dispersed berry bunches or bunches of fruit 'counterpointed' within the scrolls. Such scrolls occur at Lowther (no. 1) Heversham (no. 1) and Kendal in Cumbria; Lancaster and Heysham in Lancashire; and at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire (Bailey 1974a, i, 34–7). The origin of the split stemmed and tendrilled scroll is ultimately in Classical art, and, as Baldwin Brown showed, models for such organizations could be in Samian pottery or stone altars which would have been freely available in northern England (Brown 1921, 274–5, pl. 25; Phillips 1977, pl. 82). A parallel and possibly independent copy of this type of scroll occurs east of the Pennines: at Jarrow on the octagon (no. 22) and on shaft no. 1, where the motif is treated in a heavy, deeply cut manner typical of that centre (Cramp 1984, pls. 100, 529; 90, 475). In contrast, at Lowther and Heversham the strands of plant are very fine and wiry. The plant forms of the Jarrow octagon are very closely related to certain crosses at Lancaster, and Lancaster in its turn can be compared with Lowther, so that Lancaster could be seen as providing a link both in motif and style between east and west. But these may be period fashions, since one can demonstrate also the close relationship between the plant scrolls of the Ripon and Hexham school and the western groups from Lancaster to Lowther and north to Hoddom (Collingwood 1927a, 107–8; Cramp 1959–60, 12–16; Bailey 1974a, i, 134, ii, pl.).

Now the 'counterpointed' berry bunches found specifically at Kendal and Heversham (no. 1), as well as Northallerton, Yorkshire (Cramp 1974, pl. 24b) occur as early as the sixth century on tie beam coverings and the wall mosaics in the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem (Cresswell 1969, figs. 153, 12c, 24b) and the scrolls which decorate this building also provide examples of side tendrils which divide from the main stem into a coiling tendril. However these, as has been noted, could be reflections of widespread late Antique mannerisms, in which context it is interesting that the Falstead and Dalston lintels likewise contain counterpointed berry bunches. All the late Antique scrolls of quality depict grape bunches in their natural triangular form. However, by the eighth century, in Italy as well as here in Northumbria, the scroll elements, including the berry bunches, had developed varied stylized forms and it is difficult to determine whether one is considering parallel traditions or new contacts.

The dispersed berries and tiny scatters of rosette bunches of Lowther 1 are closely similar to Byzantine or Italo-Byzantine art (Panazza and Tagliaferri 1981, no. 201, fig. 212; for pelleted interlace, ibid., nos. 202–4, fig. 213). Such plant forms could have been disseminated in northern art through imported ivories, manuscripts or metalwork.

The elegant, confident scrolls of both Lowther 1 and 2 set them apart in the northern series as possibly independently reflecting Italianate taste. Faces A and B of Lowther 2, however, demonstrate Insular taste and motifs although it is interesting that face A is more closely linked with southern English than Northumbrian art. Face C, with its grooved and split leaves, which almost become leaf-whorls, is only paralleled elsewhere in England at Breedon, Leicestershire (Cramp 1977a, fig. 50), although very similar compositions, set in a medallion scroll, can be found at Brescia in a column from S. Salvatore (Panazza and Tagliaferri 1966, 166, fig. 164). (Leaf whorls also occur as a motif in the decoration of manuscripts, such as the Stockholm Codex Aureus, fol. 8v (Wilson 1984, ill. 92).) The Brescia piece and the Codex Aureus are dated c. 800, and such a date would well fit Lowther 2.

Lowther seems to have been an influential centre, and the layout and details of the fine wiry scrolls of Heversham 1, face A, are clearly derived from this centre and could date to the early ninth century. The very worn fragment from Kendal is the only shaft which rivals Lowther 1 in its delicacy of cutting, but the scroll organizations are more like those at Lancaster (Cramp 1967, 28). On the whole, this group of scrolls can best be seen as the product of a lively, inventive period of experiment with foreign models in the late eighth and early ninth centuries – perhaps the product of one generation of carvers.

The lush plant forms on Dacre 1 are best discussed with the inhabited scrolls, but they, like the heavy monumental scroll on Kirkby Stephen 1, demonstrate a continuing tradition of stylistic identity with Bernician monuments in the east. The later scrolls, such as the flaccid trail at Waberthwaite, are commonplace dregs of a tradition, but other ninth-century carvings, such as those on the Irton cross, can still produce surprising novelties. The repertoire of this cross draws upon many details from earlier scrolls within Cumbria, but it is a product of its time in using changing motifs in the same scroll panel; for example, the change from medallion to spiral scrolls, as found also on a cross from Ilkley, Yorkshire (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 63). Similarly, on Dacre 1 there are changes from geometric to spiral scrolls. The frond-like split leaves which decorate the scrolls of Irton 1 and Workington 1 survive as a type in the overlap period at Whitehaven (no. 2) and Cumwhitton.

On the whole, the complex cultural relationships of the scroll forms from Cumbria serve to emphasize the individuality of the area and to hint that the surviving examples represent only a small part of a far larger corpus of evidence.


The inhabited scroll motif is not as common in Cumbria as it is to the east of the Pennines and each of the crosses on which it occurs is an individual type of monument both in layout and range of motifs. Each is in some way related to other monuments outside the region.

Bewcastle 1 is the only monument on which the scroll is complete (Ill. 91), although Heversham 1 and Lowther 2 may be substantially complete. The scroll on the east face of Bewcastle is laid out on a broad face, unlike Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, with which this cross is so clearly linked in iconography (see pp. 19–20). This gives scope for a larger-scale treatment of the motif and it is interesting that all the Cumbrian scrolls occupy broad faces on the monuments.

At Bewcastle, the central undulating stem with single volutes produces a strong enclosing frame for each creature, but each of them perches or grips the stem naturally and the canine creature at the base of the scroll leaps easily into its volute. With the exception of the lowest, the creatures are paired in types and face alternately left and right. Each creature is actively engaged in eating the exotic fruit or flowers of the scroll. In all the other scrolls the plant seems to form a background for the beasts without providing their nourishment. The beasts hide or crouch in the scrolls as in a wood. On Lowther 2 (Ill. 432) the creatures are neatly contained in the scrolls, but the framing medallions force them into contorted positions, imprisoned with the flowers and fruit which they sniff but do not eat. The quadrupeds with puffed out chests and heads drawn back are a period type found elsewhere in late eighth- and early ninth-century manuscripts and sculpture (see p. 129). The lower quadruped on Lowther 2, like the two which are uneasily disposed on the scrolls of Heversham 1, can be paralleled outside the area in Yorkshire, on such crosses as Easby (Kendrick 1938, pl. LXXII) or Cundall/Aldborough (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 32). They are disposed against a scroll which is distinctively Cumbrian (see p. 16) and seem to be a response to a period fashion in the way they include the animals in alternate volutes. Stylistically they are very different from the bold, deeply cut animals in the scrolls on Dacre 1 (Ills. 235, 238), which are carved in a style which can be paralleled on the east side of the Pennines at, for example, Rothbury (Cramp 1984, pls. 214, 1223; 215, 1224), where there is a close parallel for the scaly serpentine creature. The fantastic lion with a semi-human face belongs to the same tradition as the Ormside bowl from a Westmorland grave (Kendrick 1938, pl. LX), and seems to represent a Northumbrian response to midland fashions (see Cramp 1978, 8). There are no early examples in Cumbria of creatures freed from the scrolls in the manner of, for example, Masham, Yorkshire (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 55), although the paired, winged creatures and the enmeshed quadruped on Waberthwaite 2 represent a ninth-century development of that tradition. The strange, ladderlike scroll on Urswick 1 (Ill. 568) has something in common with the Cheshire crosses from Sandbach (Kendrick 1938, pl. XCV), but the animals in its scroll are like no others in sculpture. Only in its paired human beings does it evoke a western tradition which is represented at Hoddom, Dumfriesshire (Ill. 677), as well as Dacre 1.

INTERLACE (G.I., pp. xxviii ff., figs. 14–26)

The interlace types in Cumbria are not very varied. There are few panelled crosses, which can allow a variety of interlace types. The mirror image and double-stranded patterns which decorate Bewcastle are not repeated elsewhere, although a panel reminiscent of the turned pattern C with pattern E terminals which occurs on that cross is also found in a crude and bungled form on Waberthwaite 2. On the whole, interlace in the later Anglian, as well as the Viking period, tends to be used either in single registers or a long run of half patterns.

On Irton 1, there is an attempt to produce double-stranded patterns in half pattern F and also to surround the face with tiny running pattern D and E knots as a panel border. Despite the fine modelled strands shown there, there is a lack of pattern precision and geometric control in the interlaces of this cross which contrast markedly with the well designed straight line patterns on face C.

At Addingham 2, the bold pattern on face A and the simple pattern F on face D have median-incised strands and are comparable with Deiran patterns (Adcock 1974, i, 229–31, 255–6). The fashion for changing patterns linked by long diagonals, which is manifest on Waberthwaite 1, is also a widespread fashion in the Deiran area beginning in the late eighth century with such elegant cross-shafts as Easby, Yorkshire.

The most popular interlace pattern throughout the region and through a considerable period of time is pattern F. It occurs on the ends of the arms of Carlisle 1, on Waberthwaite 2 and on Addingham 2, and survives as late as Penrith 2 (face B). The taste for single runs of individual knots seems to be a particular Cumbrian fashion. These are varied between C, spiralled A and a variant of D on Waberthwaite 1; but on Waberthwaite 2 the narrow faces are covered by mechanically repeated simple pattern F and the west face is subdivided vertically so that the patterns are not complete but form runs of half pattern A which are widely spaced out.

The running half pattern A knot is a distinctive feature of the spiral-scroll school discussed below (pp. 35–6).

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