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Helmdon Historical Articles

More Thoughts About the Old Mantlepiece
This 2020 photograph by Bill Elkington is of the top portion of the old mantlepiece, prudently taken from the rectory porch by Gerald Holt before it was thrown on a skip or a bonfire, or even worse, taken by someone else, at the time it was sold in the early 1990s.
It is of wood, 6' x 6' long and 11" square, and the pillars, which do not now exist, were in stone.

The following document has been sent to the history website by Amir Bassir*. He found it whilst in the process of editing an C18 text and he wonders whether the date may just be 1133, in this case the 'thousand' being represented by the letter M from the Roman numerals. In this case the numbers and letters would translate into Anno Domine 1133. (The letters WR** are the initials of a person, most likely whoever built the building that the timber was originally housed in.)

Earlier than this the date was questioned. ┬áIn 1990 the Rev'd John Roberts, the then vicar, (who took the photographs at the end of this article around this time), wrote a letter to the V&A Museum Building department to the effect that the church had recently been contacted by a Mrs Stedall who was doing a doctorate at the OU in the early study of mathematics in England, and both she and her tutor had severe reservations about the date. Basing their deliberations on the symbol before the “133” they said that they were of the opinion that the date was much earlier - 1133. If this is so, they contended that this piece of work became one of the earliest examples of Hindu-Arabic numerals in England. No other helpful letters remain.

However, with many historic writers disagreeing but favouring the later date, Amir Bassir is inclined to side with them at this point, but he is continuing his research.

Whatever the result, if it is ever resolved, St Mary Magdalene Church has an important ancient monument.

click here to download a PDF copy of the above article


Underneath are photographs taken by the Rev'd John Roberts in the early 1990s.



Editor's note:

*Amir Bassir is an Historic Buildings Archaeologist and a Senior Historic Environment Consultant.

**The Rev. William Richards was vicar of St Mary Magdalene from 1675 - 1705 (as per the list on a board in the church)

You might also like to read article no: 59 "Two Helmdon Vicars & Their Links with Wales".

Philosophical Transactions is the world's first and longest-running scientific journal. It was launched in 1605 by Henry Oldenburg, the society's first secretary, who acted as publisher and treasurer.

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