Thursday, 22 August 2013
The Rattlebone Inn Sherston; lies 5 miles west of Malmesbury. Built in the late 17th century, it acquired its name in honour of local hero and Captain of the militia - John Rattlebone who, in 1016 alongside King Eadmund Ironside battled the Danes led by King Canute over a period of 2 days in the hills nearby. Badly wounded, Rattlebone is said to have fought on whilst clutching a stone tile to his stomach to staunch the flow of blood but more gruesomely to prevent his intestines from spilling out. Eventually, King Canute was overpowered and retreated to London to lick his own wounds.
The 17th century antiquary and philosopher John Aubrey wrote of Rattlebone; ‘Rattle Bone, who did much service against the Danes when they infested this part of the countrey…’ He also records the following verse from Sherston;
'Fight well Rattlebone,
Thou shalt have Sherston.
What shall I with Sherston doe?
Without I have all belongings thereto?
Thou shalt have Wych and Wellesley
Easton toune and Pinkerney'
Although Rattlebone suffered a terrible wound, it is said he survived. As a reward for his valour, he was given the manor of Sherston and associated lands by the mayor. So the verse may hold some truth. However, there are those who say Rattlebone died of his wound at the very spot where the Inn now stands. Recent sightings are few but historically there have been many encounters, along with shadowy figures seen in the area of the bar.
The Lost Armour
Legend has it that a suit of battle scared armour belonging to Rattlebone was placed in a chest by the locals and stowed in a room above the east door of the 12th century church of the Holy Cross Sherston. My research led me to said church where I spoke briefly with the vicar. He told me that the chest and armour, if indeed such relics existed, were not in evidence in the church. As to the whereabouts of the chest, he proffered no clue.
The chest, at 5 feet long by 3 feet high, was said to have been carved from oak and at one end embellished with the initials R.B. Could this have been the chest that housed Rattle Bone‘s armour? The only clue as to what happed to the chest appears in a short piece from a 70 year old newspaper that hangs behind a glass frame on a wall in the Inn - It reads; The chest was sold in 1895 to Sackville Cresswell Esq. His nephew H. Pinkney Cresswell Esq gave it back to the church in 1929 where it remained. The chest, reputed to be from the 1300s, was used to house the vestments on its return. As for the armour; well, that mysteriously disappeared too.
There is a curious weather-beaten statue (the only thing that remains of the old Saxon church which originally stood on the site of the Holy Cross) to the right of the east door, which the locals over the centuries believed was that of John Rattlebone clutching a stone tile to his side. However, the church challenged this claim preferring it be the statue of a former Anglican dignitary holding the bible to his chest. At a little over four feet tall the statue does not strike one as being particularly heroic but then is it to actual size...