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On windy nights, the derelict and romantic ruin that is Crawford Priory is reputed to have a familiar visitor. A wandering spirit walks through the estate which she once owned accompanied by a retinue of the per animals that she knew and loved. This is the ghost of Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford who is rumoured to walk the grounds when the wind is high.
Is she keeping a watch on the crumbling building or her crypt which is a mile away. Or does she see the Priory as it once was with its fine furnishings and decoration and a butler opening the front door to visitors as she, smiling, descends the sweeping staircase to meet them?
Deep in the Fife countryside lies the shell of a derelict, once grand country house. For over 25 years it has been abandoned to nature which is fast obscuring it from memory and the world. Ivy and saplings have thrust their way through broken windows and doors and a fire in 1995 was the final indignity. In 1997 its current owner applied to have it demolished but it may just eventually fall down by itself.
The cawing of crows or the wind whistling around what’s left of the Gothic styled Crawford Priory are the only sounds that the casual visitor will hear now.
However, it was never actually a priory and no religious order ever lived there. But the name went with the romantic Gothic touches such as the pointed windows and the battlements and so it became one.
A mile away near Lady Mary’s Wood lies an equally ruinous crypt dedicated to the Priory’s creator and the last of her line, Lady Mary Lindsay Crawford. From urban explorers websites, the last great recorders and finders of the abandoned, the crypt is in no better state than the Priory. Its door is now bricked up although a hole has been made in it and the crypt is falling in on itself. The pet cemetery is rumoured to be still there but I haven’t seen any photos of that while researching this article.
To add to the romance of the place there is also a belief that the pale wraith of Lady Mary drifts across the site as she gathers her pet animals around her. She had the crypt built so that she would always have a good view of the Priory even in death.
I am indebted to a Facebook friend who lives in Scotland with her family. They like to go out and explore the local countryside and share their photos and adventures online. They have been kind enough to give me permission to use their photos to illustrate this article. Crawford Priory was a real gem as it’s the sort of place that I would like to explore myself.
Crawford Priory was originally merely a hunting lodge built by the Earl of Crawford in 1756 and then completely remodelled in the then fashionable style in the early 1800’s. Lady Mary employed well known architects of the time to create it. She died in 1833 and was known as a reclusive, religious woman. The pet cemetery was also created by her to remind her of her favourite animals. They flocked to her and she was frequently attended by tame foxes, birds, dogs, cats and even a pet deer. However, I have been unable to find any images of Lady Mary but she must have been formidable as well as kind. There is a tombstone near the outer wall of the Priory dedicated to a pet deer which is what caught my attention and intrigued me enough to research further.
Lady Mary lived alone, except for her servants, and administered a large country estate as well as the Priory. This included limestone kilns, coal mines and farms amongst other business interests. This was remarkable in the 19th century for a woman alone.
This keen business sense and her managerial abilities led to Lady Mary being regarded as odd and her obituary, according to alex cochrane’s blog, considered her eccentricities as
‘lean’d to the virtue’s side for the cause of humanity .’’
Also, according to adcochrane, a distant relative of the family, quotes from one of Lady Mary#s letters on his blog, in which she says:
‘this hall is raised under bad and awful auspices ‘
and then goes onto to describe how her dog:
‘howled in the most dreadful manner in the next room to the new building…yet in spite of its cries would not leave the dining-room’
It sounds like a page from a Gothic novel as the heroine eats her dinner at a candle-lit dining table while her dog howls and the wind picks up speed around the battlements.
Lady Mary left generous bequests to the local poor, friends, servants and her animals. The Priory then came into the possession of the Earls of Glasgow and the Cochranes The photos on adcochrane’s blog and now in the possession of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (rcahms for short) reveal how lavishly decorated The Priory’s interior was:
‘The grand hall was magnificently decorated with fan vaulting and hanging pendants; suits of armour stood under canopied gothic niches; medieval style stained glass lit the hall. The drawing room and morning room opened off a rib vaulted chamber decorated with gargoyles, both with gothic fireplaces inlayed with coloured marbles. The principal staircase…was decorated with gilded armorial panels and armorial stained glass of the Earls of Glasgow.” adcochrane
ADcochrane also goes onto recall that
‘The grand bedroom was hung with panels of wallpaper depicting the life of Psyche from the ancient Latin story by Apuleius.’
He adds that in 1990 a lot of the internal decoration was still there but now it’s all gone. Even the sweeping staircase has finally collapsed. To see archive photos of the Priory in its glamorous heyday please visit his blog:
Eventually the Priory became just too expensive to maintain like many country houses. They usually required a retinue of servants to maintain them and after the Second World War these were in short supply. Adcochrane adds that both his godfather and cousin remembered exploring huge unused rooms and clambering about dusty piles of trunks.
In the 1960’s the Prior needed an expensive and major restoration but this never happened. No use has been found for it since and so it was left to lie empty until it fell into its current state.
If Lady Mary does walk in her wood and the Priory grounds then one hopes that she sees the Priory as it was and not how it is now.
Like many others I turned out on a wet Sunday morning to look at the elusive artist, Banksy’s, temporary emporium of homewares in trendy ‘Tech City’ Croydon.
He created ‘Gross Domestic Product” in response to a greeting card company attempting to copyright his name. He was advised that in order to stop it happening he needed to create his own own homeware brand. This is how the shop came into being.
Amongst a baby’s cradle surrounded by CCTV monitors and the Union Jack vest worn by Stormzy at Glastonbury I found this. The epitaph said it all and this is the artists statement on it.
It may soon be available to buy on Banksy’s online store.
On my previous spring saunters I’ve wandered through two of London’s large, sprawling cemeteries; Kensal Green and West Norwood but this year I thought I’d stay nearer to home. St Nicholas is my local church and within walking distance of my home. It’s in a prominent position in the town as it’s at the top of the hill and opposite the entrance to Knole Park, another local landmark. One of its most famous Rectors was the preacher and poet, John Donne, who was in post from 1616 until 1631 and is commemorated with a metal plate on the pavement outside. Every time I visit its churchyard I find something new and at a time when Nature is beginning to awaken again what better excuse did I need?
The present building’s shape dates from the 13th century and in fact the present nave dates from 1270. It replaces an earlier church. The north aisle was added in 1320 and the chancel south aisle and tower around 1450. There have been many later alterations but the basic 15th century structure and style remains. In 1995 excavations took place to create more meeting rooms in what may have been the crypt. The interior of the church has some monuments dedicated to prominent local families.
But it’s the churchyard that fascinated me. Intertwined with plain Victorian headstones are some wonderful examples of 18th century tombstones adorned with memento mori. A couple are naively executed but others are finely carved with the wonderful 18th century calligraphy accompanying them.
The Spring sunlight illuminated the thick patches of moss and lichens that had carefully draped itself over the monuments and memorials. It made the subtle hues and shades really stand out; the combination of green and gold or browns seemed to gleam amongst more subtle hints.
Some of the lichens looked as if someone had taken a paintbrush loaded with colour and then dabbed it onto the stones. Moss has the effect of softening the edges of stones and letters and, where it replaces letters completely, gives a more organic feel to the epitaph.
A spreading horse chestnut tree was laden with sticky buds already beginning to burst into leaf. ‘How many years has it stood near the church door marking the seasons and years?’ I thought.
A chaffinch called loudly for its mate from the closed part of the churchyard. I had explored this in October and seen its large carpet of prickly sweet chestnuts as a fox had turned tail and run back to where it had come from. There has been a piece of bone abandoned on top of a flat headstone and I hoped that the fox had brought it in from a nearby butchers rubbish bin…….now alas this part of the churchyard is closed due to Health and Safety as it’s so overgrown. On this visit I disturbed a fluffy ginger and white cat who soon fled in the same direction as the fox.
Three large patches of snowdrops clustered protectively around the base of a tree, their pristine heads nodding in the breeze as if deep in conversation. Primroses had begun to stud the grass and I saw my first ever cowslip amid headstones.
The tiny bright blue flowers of Speedwell blossomed beside a small tombstone and a red-tailed bee, one of the first signs of Spring, buzzed along the top of the grass. Dog violets, a much underrated flowers in my opinion, frothed plentifully beside the iron entrance gate.
Nearby, was not so much a carpet of Spring flowers, but more of a small rug of them. More Primroses, the bright yellow of Lesser Celandine, another harbinger of Spring, and more dog violets all combined to make a wonderful collection of green, yellow and purple.
There are some remarkable epitaphs in St Nicholas churchyard and this one which has now been incorporated into the fabric of the church caught my attention.
The epitaph reads:
To the Memory
of John Braithwaite Chief Coachman
to his Grace Lionel Duke of Dorset
He died by an unfortunate fall from
Ye coach near Riverhead in this parish.
His loss was greatly lamented
and by none more than
by his Lord and Master
to whom he was a most just and faithful servant
This sad accident happened
on the first day of July in
the year of our Lord 1723
With the Caring for God’s Acre project which is linked with the bio diversity recording site, irecord, biodiversity within cemeteries is being examined more closely. They are real havens for wildlife especially in big cities as they are an invaluable green space that’s accessible to everyone. I’ve always enjoyed exploring cemeteries partly for this reason whether it be standing waist high in wild flowers on a hot July day in the meadow at Kensal Green cemetery or counting butterflies along the side paths leading to the Courtoy Mausoleum in Brompton Cemetery.
Sadly the Spring sunshine was replaced by April showers but Mother Nature ignored this and kept bursting forth regardless. I’m already looking forward to my summer saunter within St Nicholas.
I haven’t posted on here this month as I am moving house…..to Sevenoaks which has a church dedicated to St Nicholas. It’s a fine old church with a fascinating churchyard. It has a fine array of headstones and monuments with symbols on display that I hadn’t previously seen.
I knew instantly that I’d found a good place to live. (if I can survive climbing the hill to reach it.)
I will be offline during the move but hope to be posting August Symbol of the Month over the bank holiday.
The remarkable discovery of a stone sarcophagus in Lant Street, Southwark last year spurred the Museum of London to collate forty years of work into one exhibition. How did Roman London commemorate death and what can we learn from what they’ve left behind?
Exhibition curators Jackie Kiely, Rebecca Redfern and Meriel Jeater have put together a collection that looks at the Roman way of death and Britain’s place on the edge of the Roman Empire.