Letters: April/May 2021

Crucks of the matter?

I was intrigued and somewhat puzzled by the letter published in CA 370 from Richard Davis of Brighton concerning the pronunciation of the word ‘cruck’, suggesting that it might be an inaccurate spelling of ‘crook’. I don’t know how these words are differentiated in Brighton, but here in the Midlands the two words are pronounced exactly the same, with the short ‘u’ sound to rhyme with ‘truck’. English spelling is as eccentric as English regional pronunciation, so who is to say what is, or is not, inaccurate?  

Ray Mills
Burton upon Trent

Crucks and crooks

I have just read Richard Davis’ letter in CA 370 regarding the pronunciation of the word ‘cruck’.

In the wooden boatbuilding world (as in the wooden shipbuilding industry before), we refer to the naturally curved logs required to form structural components – such as futtocks, frames, and knees – as crooks. Crooks are preferred for this purpose as the grain follows the required shape, thus making the component far stronger. I don’t know how far back the use of this term goes, but I’m guessing probably as far as the Middle Ages, as techniques have not really changed that much.

The term has largely fallen into disuse today, as most timber yards no longer stock crooks – each one is only suitable for making certain shapes and, as such, they are uneconomical to stock. I therefore tend to side with Mr Davis’ theory because, in my opinion, ‘crook construction’ has a more believable pedigree than ‘cruck construction’.

Richard Dommett

Photo: P S Barnwell

Cerne Abbas memories

I have been following the correspondence and articles (CA 365) on the Cerne Abbas Giant with interest. In the 1950s, I remember sitting near his head while having a picnic on holiday in the south-west. My sister and I were not allowed to tread on the actual figure, quite rightly, by our father Eric Holden – a Sussex archaeologist (1911-1989) who later published ‘Some Notes on the Long Man of Wilmington’, Sussex Archaeological Collections 109 (1971): 37-54. As an 11-year-old, I felt my mother was not replying quite truthfully to my question as to why the Giant’s interesting appendage was the wrong way up. Coming into Clovelly a few days later, we saw some donkeys in a field, and the scales fell from my eyes.

I read somewhere only a year or two ago (and did not record the source) that the Giant originally had a navel portrayed, which, with careless rechalking or by a deliberate act, became part of his member, thus elongating it to its Herculean size. Can any other CA readers confirm this?

Janet Pennington
Steyning, West Sussex

Pembridge church ponderings

Editor’s note: An errant apostrophe inadvertently changed the meaning of this letter when we printed it in CA 373 – we apologise for this error – here is the correct wording.

Photo: Nigel Saul

I was delighted to see Chris Catling’s very interesting article in CA 370 about Nigel Saul’s well-written and -illustrated book Decorated in Glory, recently published by the excellent Logaston Press. Herefordshire is a cornucopia of remarkable church architecture, not only of the 14th century but also of the 12th, and the county rewards explorers with its riches. Of especial interest to me was the inclusion of my local church at Pembridge, about which two papers by me were published in the Woolhope Transactions, in 2012 and 2014. The first explored the medieval heraldry in the surviving glass and recorded in the mid-17th century, and the second was a full analysis of the 320 masons’ 16 different banker marks which, as in the nave roof at Tewkesbury, provide an insight into the construction sequence of Pembridge’s 14th-century nave and aisles. While, rather curiously, neither paper is cited in Mr Saul’s list of sources, continuing work suggests that the present building had probably been laid out on a cleared site, the nave of the former church being demolished before construction commenced. The measurements between the pier-centres of the six bays of the nave are particularly interesting – exactly 24 feet north to south across the nave, and 14 feet east to west along the arcades. The resulting rectangles across the nave have diagonals equal to 28 feet, or two triangles with side proportions 1:2:√3, and circles drawn on the pier-centres locate the position of the glazing in the north and south walls, as also both chancel arch and west wall. Clearly there is much else to be discovered in this remarkable building, as probably in many of its near neighbours. All we need now is a GPR survey of the nave floor to locate the former church!

Peter Klein
Pembridge, Herefordshire

Not Jutes but giants

Some observations about the article on Anglo-Saxon identity (CA 366) and the follow-up letter (CA 369) on the Jutes. John Hines wonders why the Jutes never called their ‘kingdoms’ by that name. I suggest this is because in the period we are talking about, well before Bede, none of the ‘kingdoms’ thought of themselves as ethnic identities. It was their location that counted. The ‘Tribal Hidage’, a tribute list from c.650, gives 30-odd petty kingdoms, many of which go by geographic names, such as Chilternsaete. By Bede’s time, Kent was Kent, and the other Jutish areas, Meonware and Wihtware, were subsumed into the larger Saxon entity of Wessex. It was political convenience which led Penda of Mercia to lump a dozen of these petty lordships together as ‘Middle Angles’ for his son to rule (and Bede to note).

As for the Jutes themselves, they do appear in contemporary literature outside Bede. They feature, possibly as refugee swords for hire, as Eoten in a vignette within Beowulf (ll.1063-1159) which recounts an event in c.450 in Friesland involving one Hengist! This is discussed in detail by none other than J R R Tolkien (Finn and Hengest, HarperCollins, 2006 [1982], p.54). But one reason for his discussion is that there is an Old English word eoten, written the same but pronounced with a short initial ‘e’, meaning ‘giant.’ Thus, I suggest, if the Jutes looked for an origin for their identity (seriously or in jest) it was as giants, not just ‘the people’ as Richard Durrant proposes.

Greg Forster
Church Stretton, Shropshire

Edible archaeology

National Trust Archaeology.

This is our attempt at making and decorating shortbread biscuits as floor tiles – our shortbread was super-crumbly and the icing was too runny, but they tasted good! We used a recipe from a (historic!) @ladybirdbooks cookbook.

If you loved the medieval floor tiles from Fountains Abbey we shared for #MosaicMonday on Twitter (we know you did!), then maybe you’d like to have a go at designing your own? Our latest Archaeology Activity pack is out now! Download for free at https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/archaeology-pack-3-fountains-abbey.pdf.

What you shared with us this month

Kenny Brophy @urbanprehisto
It’s great to see the Clachtoll Broch project win a @Current Archaeo prize recently. I visited with my father-in-law a couple of years ago and it was stunning. @aocarchaeology

Dr Joe Flatman @joeflatman
@CurrentArchaeo 374 (May 2021) is out, and with it my latest column on the archaeology of mid and west #Wales, superbly shared on the magazine’s fab news portal The Past: https://the-past.com/comment/excavating-the-past- of-south-wales/.

Northern Picts @northernpicts
@UoA_Archaeology @LeverhulmeTrust @HistEnvScot @diggermann17 @ScotArchStrat @CurrentArchaeo @ArchScot

Write to us at: CA Letters, Current Publishing, Thames Works, Church Street, London W4 2PD, or by email to: letters@archaeology.co.uk
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