If you’ve ever walked to the very edge of Cresswell along Cresswell Old Lane, you’ll have found yourself at the small, but historic, Catholic church of St Mary’s.
And you may have wondered why a stone slab is mounted on the bank by the front of the church.
A strange discovery
Neville Mountford, who worships at St Mary’s, was the man who found the slab – and we went to his house in Saverley Green to ask him what it was all about…
“Sometime around the year 2000, I was out walking with a friend on land behind Blythe Colours in Cresswell – and we came across an old stone trough on Painsley Farm’s land.
“The base of the trough had strange markings on it, which really did arouse my interest: I thought, and others also agreed, that the main marking looked a bit like the cross-in-a-circle, what we call a Christian ‘pax’ sign.”
In fact, it would not have been unusual to find an ancient church fitting re-used in this kind of way! Medieval fonts (the stone bowls in which babies are baptised) have been found on farms in other places of the Midlands used as planters, not to mention troughs…
History tells us that, 500 years ago, zealous Protestant reformers often stripped the churches of the day of decorative ‘Catholic’ items – which they found inappropriate – and, if they could not otherwise dispose of them, they would simply throw them away.
So, Neville’s reaction was to wonder if this was something similar.
Also, Cresswell has had a long tradition of families who have clung to the old Catholic faith despite the difficulties that being a Catholic presented down the centuries.
In fact, the families at Paynsley Hall had been Catholic for centuries, right into the 20th century.
Neville continued: “I asked if I could have it for St Mary’s, and Colin Bostock, the famer then at Painsley, agreed to bring it over in his tractor some time, which he did a couple of years later. Father Novotnik, who was our priest then, didn’t mind.
“So we erected it, using steel supports, on a plot just outside the church”.
What did local historians say?
“Well, somebody had a theory which was that the slab might have been the altar-stone from the private chapel which was known to have been at Paynsley Hall before the hall was destroyed – but we couldn’t get it properly dated”.
But… an historian did turn up after all.
“This man was just visiting the church, and when he looked at the stone, he said, no – it’s a cheese press!!
The way he said it worked was that the raw curds were pressed; and the slab caught the whey that ran off. The deep holes are something to do with the way the slab was mounted on struts or poles, and maybe the markings are to do with the press’s movement.”
Are you disappointed then, Neville?
“No, not really. It’s still historical; because we later found out that cheese-making had been known to have been a speciality at Paynsley estate for centuries, so it’s all part of the area’s history.”
(Indeed, a nineteenth-century bishop actually once described Painsley as “a mere cheese-making place” ! – see History of Cresswell Community)
So, if ever you pass the church, just glance in through the gates of the drive, and there you will see Neville’s find.
However, we have a strange feeling that the full history of this slab has still yet to be told…
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