i) Wick (present), Wikewane (Saxon), Wiche (Domesday Book)
The small parish of Wick was originally part of the much larger one of St Andrew, Pershore. Its name is derived from the Saxon word meaning 'a bend in the river' or 'the dwelling, specialised farm or trading settlement' (1). However, activity on the banks of the River Avon go back to prehistory and most of our evidence comes from aerial photographs. These reveal an ancient drove road, 'an extremely important enclosure complex' (dating possibly from the Romano-British period) and a Neolithic cursus (2). Perhaps this is our first connection between death and linear landscape features in the parish. Orientation of the cursus is ambiguous and still open to discussion (3). It is on low-lying fertile ground in the loop of a river liable to flooding (4).
ii) A surfeit of saints
The present fabric of St Mary's church dates back to Norman times. Originally it was only a chapel of ease without right to burial, thus bodies had to be carried to the Abbey in Pershore (5). Confusion surrounds the church records that seem to show that it has been dedicated to both St Lawrence (in 1269) and St Bartholemew (in 1479) before its current appellation (6). The village itself has a colourful history and also boasts several ghosts and hauntings, both Wick House and Van Dyke Court that flank the main street have their own resident apparitions. Other sightings include monks silently making their way through the streets, and reports persist until recently. In the mid-1980s a youth was cycling to Wick when he swerved to avoid a man who suddenly appeared on the path. When he untangled himself from his bike he saw that the man had gone (7). Of far more importance is the story of one of the Hudson family. Benwell Hudson was a well known and eccentric character who became a monk at Pershore. He insisted on travelling into the town on the 'old road' even if it meant climbing over fences and through hedges. Certainly some sort of observance of older traditions and beliefs was being upheld by this colourful individual. The old road to Wick was changed after 1700 (8).
iii) The passage of the dead
The route itself consists of two straight paths intersected by the river. Common sense would dictate that you would have to negotiate the bridge no matter how straight a route you were trying to make to the Abbey. The footpath travels west out of Wick and is easily recognised but becomes far more interesting once you have crossed the bridge. The route itself is etched into the field and aligned on the Abbey to the north. After a field boundary you enter a section of hollow way between the fields, the passage of the path left clear. The only obstruction on this line is the corner of a modern industrial unit, but this can be bypassed and the route redefined. This takes you to the Abbey, the ruins of which still dominate the town even after the best efforts of the Dissolution. Recent excavations during its refurbishment revealed its Saxon origins but a few Roman artefacts suggest earlier activity on the site. One of the best clues to the use of this route lies hidden behind the modern name Church Street. It was originally known as Lice Street, 'lice' being the Saxon word for corpse (9). The Abbey itself was once the home to a screaming phantom that terrorised locals for a period - the ghost itself was heard but not seen (10) Originally dedicated to St Mary and St Eadburgha, it was a repository for the relics of the latter saint brought from Winchester. Their propensity for miracles provided the focus for a cult in Saxon times (112). Also of interest is the effiugy of a Knight Templar said to be that of Harewell of Besford (12), and the concealed Green Man amongst the ceiling bosses.
A coffin path that not only still retains its course on the ground, but one that also has documentary evidence to prove its existence and use.
1 Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names, A D Mills, Oxford University Press, 1991
2 Worcestershire Countryside Treasures, J H Turner, Hereford and Worcester Council 1973, Updated 1984
3 Worcester Archaeological Service, Maps and records (visit 1997)
4 The Siting of Cursus Monuments in H&W, Wayne Perkins (forthcoming)
5 Victoria County History Vol, IV, Archibald Constable, 1901
6 St Mary's, Wick - Its History, Christine Collins, Wick Parochial Church Council, 1998
7 Mr S Deacon, Pers comm., 1998
8 Evesham Journal, Anne Bradford (unpublished article, 1998)
9 Wick: A History, C E Mogridge Hudson, James Parker & Co., 1901
10 Haunted Worcestershire, Anne Bradford
11 Pershore Abbey, Dr Marshall Wilson, R J L Smith and Assoc., 1997
12 Pershore and its Environs: The Story of 1000 Years, Roger Corbett-Milward, Committee of Pershore Millennium 972-1992
1. Cursus (crop mark only)
2 Ancient drove road (crop mark only)
3 Enclosures (probably Romano-British
4 St Mary's, Wick
5 Footpath travelling west
6 Pershore bridge (the original one)
7 Section of path through hollow way
8 Church Street, formerly Lice Street
9 Pershore Abbey
10 St Andrew's, Pershore
FUNERAL PATH AT WICK, WORCESTERSHIRE