Projects

Staverton – Wonderland of Kings:

IT’S PLACE IN THE SACRAL LANDSCAPE OF THE SANDLINGS

Jeremy Taylor – Part 1 for publication on Mayday 2020

An awesome place of Tolkienesque wonder and beauty. The mighty and bizarre shapes of oaks of unknown age rise out of a sea of tall bracken, or else are mysteriously surrounded by rings of yet mightier hollies.

Rackham, O (1986)*

Staverton Park is ‘one of the most important surviving areas of wood pasture in England’ ­[1] and with its close proximity to Rendlesham, the implication is that it may have originated as an early medieval hunting ground, placing it firmly within a Royal sacral landscape in 600 A.D. Staverton park is a bold, otherworldly punctuated verse in East Anglian’s sacred landscape. There is no obvious reason why an extensive woodland “should have survived here when the adjacent heathlands were stripped bare of trees.” ­[2] Few places on earth touch the soul as deeply as the landscape around Staverton, which also boasts some significant statistics.

  • It has the tallest Holly tree in the country
  • Is one of the largest collections of ancient trees in the whole of Europe, with one species of fungi presently found in only three other locations in the whole of the UK
  • Can lay claim to being held sacred, positively managed and potentially unspoilt for nearly two thousand years

The earliest reference to Staverton as a park occurred in 1275 A.D., though records may indicate it was a deer park as early as 1178 A.D. Some of the trees date to at least the 1200’s and according to the Domesday book 1086 A.D. we know that a woodland did exist in Staverton Manor, while the rest of the surrounding landscape was poorly wooded. Evidence indicates that this area has never been cleared of trees. That Staverton later became a deer park is fitting, given the importance of the symbol of the stag and hart as a cult-animal in sacral kingship. The stag, as a guide, appears in Frankish and Germanic legends and in Norse mythology four Harts gnaw at the roots of the sacred tree Yggrdrasil, the World Tree. The symbol of the stag is preserved in both the Sutton Hoo sceptre and in the great hall of King Hrothgar, known as Heorot (Hart / Stag – Hall) in Beowulf. Stags are also mythical creatures associated with virility, strength and sun, recorded at least since early medieval times. There is a continuation of  “mythological imagery associated with wild creatures of the forest world” ­[3] with the shedding of antlers, associated with seasonal regeneration, representative of the cycle of life itself, growth, with death and regeneration ­[4] aligning symbolically with Christian ideas of the resurrection.

It is possible that the origin of the name Staverton might hint at a long forgotten site of a stapol – a sacred platform, tree, post or pillar. The people of this time ‘had a synergic relationship with the natural world’ [5] and a cosmic tree was central to the beliefs of the cosmos for pre Christian Icelanders who represented a ‘mighty tree in the centre of a round disc surrounded by water’. [6] An ideal location for a possible stapol at Staverton would be close by the mysterious earthwork of Cumberland’s Mount. Believed to be Norman in origin, its exact roots are unclear with many rich and varied proposals regarding its origins, including the remains of a timber castle originating in the 10th Century, a red hill being a by-product of salt production form 800 B.C. to 409 A.D. whilst artefacts discovered during an excavtion in 1910 were similar to that found among the early Iron Age burials of the Arras culture in East Yorkshire 100 B.C. – 70 A.D. On the edge of Cumberland’s Mount there is also a strong contender for the ‘nine yard oak’, a vast tree, which when recorded in 1832 A.D. was a staggering 8.23 metres round.

Trees in early medieval England marked significant meeting places where important political decisions were made throughout the period, maintaining ideological ties with human and supernatural authority. Territorial organisation in the 7th Century produced a spatial dislocation, reflecting a significant shift in conceptions of sacred geography between human and supernatural residents of the landscape, where territorial centres and cult sites developed ‘places of emergent power where connections were being made with the supernatural or ancestral and where access to this powerful resource was managed’. [7]


Part 2 – Forthcoming:

Staverton – Wonderland of Kings:
The Totemic Symbols of the Wuffing Kingdom 

This work will explore how the above ritually planned landscape used systematic sites that were chosen for their mythological and cosmological functions, anchored around the most powerful natural features present.


* The History of the Countryside: The Classic History of Britain’s landscape, flora and fauna.

References: 1, 2 Williamson, T (2005). 3. Davidson, H.R.E (1993). 4. Enright, M.J (2006). 5, 7. Semple. S (2013). 6. Dunn. M (2009).

Staverton is a place of mystery and wonder; it has a peculiar effect on first-time visitors who have no foreknowledge that the world contains such places.

Maitland, S. (2012) Gossip From The Forest: the Tangled Roots of our Forests and Fairytales