Saturday, September 09, 2006

Guy’s Cliffe House, Warwick
Saturday, September 9, 2006

On my walk to Old Milverton, I noticed, along the banks of the Avon River, the mysterious and romantic ivy-covered ruins of an old stone house. Nearby, I could see the tower of a small church. I later learned that the ruins, unmarked on the OS map, belong to Guy’s Cliffe House, built in the mid-eighteenth century and allowed to fall to ruin in the decades since the Second World War. I also learned that the ruins and the church (about which more below) would be open to the public for a limited time as part of the annual Warwick Heritage Open Days.

Our walk again took us along the golf course, past the church in Leek Wootton, and past the Warwickshire county police headquarters, which occupy an old stately home called Woodcote (seen here, with the geometric topiary). Before we visited Guy’s Cliffe House, we stopped at the Saxon Mill for lunch. The pub is quite posh and historic—a nineteenth-century mill incorporating (as English buildings often do) elements of a much older structure. There is still a working water wheel and a lovely mill pond. We first took our drinks (Timothy Taylor Landlord bitter, lemonade) out onto the patio overlooking the mill pond, but soon found ourselves quite chilly, so we retreated inside to sit on a comfortable sofa and eat our “fired pizzas.”

The history of site around Guy’s Cliffe House goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. According to the 15th-century antiquary, John Rous, an oratory (a chapel connected to a small religious community) was founded on the site in around 600 A.D. by St. Dubritius. For centuries thereafter, the chapel became associated with hermits who lived in the nearby caves. The most famous of these hermits was the legendary Guy of Warwick—dragon slayer, Crusader, Saxon champion who single-handedly saved Winchester and King Aethelstan from the Danes—who ended his days in a nearby cave in the early 10th century.

The existing chapel seems to incorporate construction from the 12th century (perhaps in the north wall, seen in the interior photograph here, which incorporates a stone statue of Guy, just to the right of the central pillar). Extensive renovation was done by Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, in about 1430. The Freemasons now own the chapel and use it as a Masonic Temple.

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