The Early Gods of the Peoples of Whitehall Farm
by Dave Hayward

Little evidence remains to indicate what gods were worshipped by the pre Christian inhabitants of this area. What evidence does remain however perhaps goes some way to identifying the local gods.

These indications interestingly stem from the adjacent parish of Church Stowe that lies to the immediate west of Nether Heyford and Whitehall Farm. Geographically Church Stowe and Whitehall Farm lay on the same spur of highground and are connected by ancient, probably pre Roman tracks. There would have been a strong affinity between any settlement at the now Whitehall Farm and Stowe.

Before we consider the names of these gods, it is perhaps appropriate to look at the name Stowe itself. The origins, probably Pre Anglo Saxon, are indicative of a religious meting place. There is evidence that elsewhere this name stems from pre Christian religious activity. This view would tend to be corroborated at Stowe.

Unfortunately, to date no evidence of a pre Christian temple or other place of worship has been identified in Stowe. However, it is a known fact that early Christian places of worship evolved from existing pagan places of worship. Interestingly the first church at Church Stowe, on the site of the current church, was built during the 7th Century. This would have been about the same date as the burial of the Anglo Saxon Warrior, “The Whitehall Warrior” on display here today. This burial is described as a Proto-Christian burial displaying evidence of both Pagan and Christian traditions. There is also evidence to connect religious activity at Stowe with a Mercian royal palace at nearby Weedon. This location can be related to the progression from pre Christian Anglo-Saxon religious activity to the earliest vestiges of Christianity.

Perhaps the earliest evidence of a pre Christian god worshipped locally was the finding of a statue of an apparent Romano-British god buried as a footstone below the plinth of the 10th/11th Century tower of the current church. This sculpture is described as probably being that of the Apollo with some added influences akin to the snakes of Medusa. A view has been taken that the Roman god Apollo has been modified to incorporate an unknown local Celtic god. The statue is made from stone from the eastern part of Northamptonshire at Weldon. Pure speculation but was burying the physical image of a pagan god under the most massive fabric of a Christian church seen as a way of suppressing its influence?

There have been finds of other statues in Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. These are in the area of the Coritani Iron Age tribe, to the north of the river Nene. At least one of these statues again depicted Apollo; others were of Hercules and Minerva. These statues emanated from Coritani workshops.

It does appear that the area to the south of the River Nene, which includes Whitehall Farm, was in the domain of the Cattuvellauni Iron Age Tribe. However, interaction between the tribes both in trade and worship would have been a common occurrence, especially at such an accessible area as this where the river was easily crossed.

The other evidence of the worship of pre-Christian gods stems from both an Anglo-Saxon charter of ad 956 that delineated the boundaries of the then parish of Stowe. This specifically makes as one of its boundaries a brook described at that time as “the noisy brook”, the Anglo-Saxon words being “hludan wylle”. The brook runs from Stowe to the NorthEast to skirt the modern village of Nether Heyford to the West to join the River Nene to the North of the village. It currently has no name. However, the 18th Century historian Bridges names it as the Luddal Spring. The brook rises in hills that are named in medieval furlong names and tithe maps as Ludhill. Recent conversation with the farmer who currently owns the land where the spring rises, Dennis Brodie, indicates that he still knows spring as the Luddal Brook and a field near where it rises is called Ludd. This therefore indicates continuous use of the same name from Celtic times through to the 21st Century.

The religious connotation with this name comes from the name of the Celtic god Ludd, who is described as a both a sea god and a river god. Mention is also made of a Celtic king named Ludd, allegedly buried at Ludgate in London, who was considered to be an earthly manifestation of the similarly named god. He is reputed to have been responsible for the construction of a defensive earthwork stretching from Daventry to the North Sea, north of the Wash. Interestingly part of the first syllable of the first Anglo Saxon word for the name noisy brook, “hludan” is ‘lud'. At Luddenham near Halifax in Yorkshire, there is a River Ludd, which was first mentioned in 1284 as the noisy stream or loud river.

Near to the source of our brook is an undated, probable, burial mound; was this at all connected to the god Ludd? From personal experience the brook is known today as being noisy after heavy rain – was this sound perhaps seen as the God of the river speaking?

As an aside this stream would form the first natural obstacle for some distance from the west to the east from our Villa, did it constitute the estate boundary in that area? Other boundaries could have been Watling Street and the River Nene.

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