John Dixon was a publisher, author and historian who, in the spirit of notable Blackburn writers Alfred Wainwright and Jessica Lofthouse created a series of historic walks through the Lancashire countryside that have engaged and delighted countless people over the past twenty five years. He was my good friend and publisher who sadly died suddenly late last year. When it came to the area around east Lancashire he was a walking encyclopaedia and you’d be hard pushed to find a more eloquent and interesting companion for a stroll in the countryside. One day he took me to see the last resting place of Jeppe Knave.
Pendle Hill is an iconic Lancashire landmark that rises out of the Ribble valley like a misshaped loaf. Its association with the witch trials of 1612 has given it a legendary status, but its human history pre-dates written records by a few thousand years and is still visible if you know where to look, in the form of Megalithic and Neolithic settlements and cawhamber tombs. In one such grave lies Jeppe Knave.
The 1320s were a turbulent period in England. A weak king in Edward II hadallowed the barons to consolidate their power and the north of the country was terrorised and laid siege to by reivers from the Scottish borders. The resulting chaos left large areas virtually lawless; roamed by gangs of renegades led by men who murdered and robbed at will and with seeming impunity. One such man was Jeppe Knave.
England in the fourteenth century was a devoutly catholic country and the belief that the sins of this life would be judged in the next encouraged a culture of fear and superstition. The dying received Confession and after death were placed in consecrated ground, facing east, in anticipation of the Day of Judgement. It was important to be buried in one piece as missing bits had to be sought out prior to appearing before God. In the poem ‘Relic’ by John Donne the bereaved spouse carries to his grave a bracelet made from his dead lover’s hair, that she might seek him out in the afterlife.
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls, at the last busy day,
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?
The wealthy built chancery chapels and paid for mass to be said daily to ease them through purgatory, while the poor prayed to saints.
Jeppe Knave was captured then taken to a pagan place on the west of Pendle, where he was beheaded and thrown into an ancient chamber tomb. The message was clear: there would be no redemption; by this act he’d been consigned to Hell for all eternity. Some time later a cross was carved into one of the stones and in more recent times his name was crudely added.
Returning here to write this blog I’m struck by the grave’s complete isolation, far from the main footpaths and known only to a few it never the less depicts the beliefs and customs of two remarkable periods in our turbulent history.
By Dante Alighieri
But fix your eyes on that valley, we are approaching
The river of blood in which everyone boils
Who does harm to his neighbour by violence.
Around the ditch they [Centaurs] go, thousand after thousand,
Loosing arrows at any spirit which rises
Further out of the blood than its guilt allows.
Then we moved on with our faithful escort,
Along the edge of the boiling red liquid,
From which came the shrill cries of the scalded.
John’s walking guides are available at: aussteiger publications
Mark’s recipe for Farmers’ Fingers
Dark soy sauce
1 red pepper
Boil potatoes with chopped leek and cabbage then drain and mash together with butter.
While the spuds are boiling wrap the chicken in streaky bacon: sprinkle with herbs and shallow fry until chicken turns golden, then add a good lashing of soy sauce.
Add chopped onion, pepper and broccoli: stir and simmer until cooked.
Make up a thick gravy and indulge yourself.
Next week: The Cloths of Gold