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A ceremony that will keep going on until the cows come home; COVENTRY: The making of a city.

ONE thousand years ago on November 11 as the morning sun broke, a group of people stood huddled around an old hollow stone on Knightlow Hill, near Ryton on Dunsmore. Here they performed a ceremony which still goes on to this day - almost uninterrupted for 1000 years. It is known as Wroth Silver.

The ceremony as it exists now is based on payments placed in the hollow stone with the words Wroth Silver by member villages of the Knightlow Hundred. The money is collected by the agent of the Duke of Buccleach, lord of the manor. Those who do not pay a set fee are fined 20 shillings for every penny, or a white bull with red nose and red ears. After the ceremony is over the payee's head for the local inn where toasts are made with milk and rum and a substantial breakfast is provided.

The origin of the Wroth Silver ceremony is lost in time, some say the word wroth is derived from wroth meaning roadway, others suggest the more likely Rother hryder, which means cattle money. The ancient connection to cattle is also seen in the white bull fine and the milk drinking ceremony.

There are many important aspects to this ancient ceremony which suggest that it was taking place long before the last millennium began. The actual stone used stands in the centre of a 30-foot square mound, long thought to be an ancient tumulus or burial mound. Warwickshire's great 17th century historians believed the mound to be a warriors grave. Some have suggested that here lies the Danish giant warrior, Colbran who was decapitated in single combat by our own Guy of Warwick.On top of the mound is a stone, very worn and misshapen and about 30 inches square at the top, with a deep rounded hollow in its centre. Many have suggested in the past that it is the base of a mediaeval wayside cross and claim it shows a mason's mark, a rough cross carved into it. I am inclined to believe that, as it is part of a ceremony that long precedes the mediaeval period, the stone was placed where it is purely for ceremonial purposes far in the distant past.

I believe the Wroth Silver ceremony began many centuries before the year 1000 and later additions have to be cut away to find its original meaning. The main parts of the ceremony are basically that it takes place as the sun rises, offerings are given and cattle and milk are involved. This is suggestive of Bronze Age or Celtic society when cattle were of prime importance.

November 11, St Martin's Day is the eve of the old Celtic Samhain when the cattle were brought down from the hills for winter and the excess stock were slaughtered. It also marks what became known as the Halcyon Days, the summer days when unseasonably the sun made a brief reappearance, before its decline into winter.

Cattle and the sun have historically a connection with world religions going back to ancient Egypt, where Hathor was goddess of cattle and the sun. In the Canary Islands people gave offerings to a similar goddess by pouring milk into hollow stones.

Nearer to home in Scotland milk was poured into special stones called Leac an Grugach or Dobby Stones. This was an offering to Gruac, the goddess who protects cattle. Armed with this knowledge I believe the Wroth Silver ceremony began life as a pre-Christian ceremony connected to cattle and Samhain, the busiest time of the Celtic year concerning their cattle and lighting fires to encourage the return of the sun.

Offerings were made of milk and cattle money into the stone which bears the cross and as the sun rose the giver circled the stone three times sunwise - the magic number and the way of the sun. This ceremony to the goddess of cattle and sun would ensure that the surviving cattle were protected over winter and breed well in spring, at the sun's rebirth.

Finally the fine last imposed in 1893, is of a white bull with red ears and a red nose. The bull, symbol of fertility and the sun, in this instance is what became known as faerie cattle, a rare breed of wild white cattle, domesticated by the Celts which almost disappeared with the Celts except for one herd which has been kept within the walled park of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland for over 700 years.

HISTORY LESSON

William The Conqueror's Domesday survey of 1086

provides a clear indication that Coventry had barely achieved town, let alone city status.

It was little more than a collection of timber dwellings housing less than 1,000 people with no shops and a handful of unpaved thoroughfares.

The Domesday Book records 69 heads of family in the Earl's half of the community (although infant mortality rates were high, a prodigious birth rate compensated).

No record was made of the other half of Coventry which belonged to the Priory.

These early Coventrians lived off the land, either as free men or as villeins, serfs and bordars belonging to the lord.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McGrory, David
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Sep 7, 1999
Words:855
Previous Article:Sir Guy - fighting for the love of a woman; COVENTRY: the making of a city.
Next Article:Kings of the castles: Brinklow castle; COVENTRY: The making of a city.


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