THE SITE OF OVERCHURCH, UPTON, WIRRAL: A SURVEYD O'Hanlon and K PealinThe site of Overchurch i located at SJ 265891 on thefifty foot contour on a slight ridge which overlooks theFender valley on the east and the Arrowe and GreasbyBrooks on the west. Northwards, beyond the town ofMoreton, the ground drops to the sandy flats ofHoylake and Meols. Southwards the ridge eventuallyrises to the 61 m contour.The name Overchurch comes from the Anglo-Saxon'ofer' shore, and 'circe' church (Fergusson Irving 1893,279-81 ). The 'Church on the Shore' would welldescribe the topography of Wirral in this area duringthe Anglo-Saxon period when the sea would havejoined with the Birket and the Fender to form apromontory of the Overchurch ridge (Fig. l).The survey aimed to examine the site of Overchurch byrecording the perimeter bank enclosure of thechurchyard, and also to plot as many surface features aspossible both within the churchyard and in thesurrounding open ground. This record was planned tobe completed in advance of phase two of the Uptonbypass which is routed to the west and north of Uptonto connect with the M53 spur road. Although the siteitself will not be affected, the route of the spur will runthrough the adjacent field lying on the north (Fig. 2).The exercise also provided an excellent opportunity forthe members of a University of Liverpool ContinuingMERSEYSIDE EARLY CHRISTIAN SITESEducation class to practi e a range of archaeologicaland historical skills.Documentary evidence for the history of Overchurchindicates that a church existed on the site from as earlyas Norman times, and there is some suggestion of anearlier foundation . The site (Fig. 3) which at presentconsists of a sub-circular earthen bank approximately41 x34m encloses the remains of a grave yard. Itsflanking fields are now used as a public park. In 1813the Norman and medieval church was replaced by anew church at Greenbank, Upton, three quarters of amile to the south (Cox 1893, 305- 10). This churchremained in use until 1868 when the present, muchlarger parish church of St. Mary ' s Upton was built, aquarter of a mile to the south east on the A 5027.The circular form of the enclosure at Overchurch maywell have Jinks with a time prior to the early Christianperiod, since examples of churches built on pagan sitesare not unknown (Piggott and Piggott 1939, 153 ).Close inspection of the site at Overchurch shows thatthe ditch which follows the bank on the north waspossibly of later construction. On the inner side,however, is a shallow depression which it is temptingto see as the remains of an internal ditch. Such afeature would correspond to the usual structure of ahenge. The dimensions of the Overchurch circle may becompared to the henge at Bryn Celli Ddu, Anglesey(Lynch 1970, 56-7).Archaeological and epigraphic evidence indicate anearly date for a Christian presence at Overchurch. Thecircular nature of the enclosing bank compares wellwith the vallum which surrounded so many earlyChristian churches and monasteries during the earlypost Roman period in Britain . Probably the mostfamous of these is the site of the Columban foundationon Iona, Scotland, where the remains of the vallum canstill be seen (RCHMS, 1982, 31-42). Local examples inthe Merseyside region occur and although a vallum isnot evident, the churches of St. Bridget, West Kirbyand Holy Cross, Woodchurch, are both sited withincircular churchyards.10'.JFigure 1: Location of early Christian sites inMerseyside.The earliest datable evidence for a Christian communityat Overchurch is seen in the Aethelmund Stone. Thiswas found in 1887 (Cox 1893, 314) when the stonesfrom Overchurch were reused to build its successor atGreenbank, Upton. This stone formed part of the fabricof the second church. It was retrieved by GeorgeWebster, a resident in the neighbourhood (Cox 1893,314-8) and later presented to the Grosvenor Museum,Chester (Jones 1960, 78). It is now in the WilliamsonArt Gallery. Birkenhead.

D O'Hanlon and K Pealin72OVE RCHURCHand adjacent f 1elds1PROJE CTED ROUT EOF SPUR ROADTR ,.CESAN DRIDGEOFF URROWIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII,IIIIIIII--- --- -- --.IIFigure 2: Survey of Overchurch and adjacent fields .The stone, of carboniferous limestone, measures 511 x254 x 228mm and is recumbent. On the upper surfaceis the remains of a carving of interlaced dragons, at oneend an arcade, and on one vertical face, an inscriptionin Anglo-Saxon runes which reads in translation:'the people erected thisAethelmund'monument: prayfor(Cox, 1983, 316).Collingwood (Brown bill 1927, 25) suggested on stylisticgrounds, a date late in the Anglian period, perhaps 900.On the other hand, Elliott (1959, 147), suggested amuch longer date span, from c.700-900, basing hisargument on the lack of information regarding thehistory of Wirral. Be that as it may, it is an indicationthat the followers of Aethelmund were Christian, andhad a reverence for the site at Overchurch where it maybe supposed they raised this stone. There is someuncertainty as to the identity of Aethelmund. Bu'lock(1972, 49) considers that the ninth century Mercianearldorman Aethelmund, described in the Anglo-SaxonChronicle (Garmonsway 1978, 58-9) is a possiblecandidate. Both the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and thestone itself indicate that Aethelmund was importantenough in Mercia to command a large following .Although a fragment of a Saxon wheelheaded cross was

II--NFigure 3: Overchurch church site, ground profile survey, 1984.

74D O'Hanlon and K Pea/infound incorporated into the fabric of the Normanchurch, no evidence exist on the ground for a churchof the Celtic or Saxon period . This, however, is noturprising since uch structures would almost certainlyhave been built of wood (Sherley Price 1982, 185).The evidence for a Norman church is more secure. Cox,working on the ba i of an eyewitness account of asmall seventeenth century sketch and of stones foundduring the di mantling in 1887 of the Greenbank churchat Upton, made a reconstruction and ground plan of theNorman church (Cox 1893, 302-19). He may also havebeen aware of Mortimer's description of the church as'having had pointed arches richly decorated withchevrons and Saxons mouldings' (Mortimer 1847, 249).It is difficult at this distance to assess the accuracy ofCox's work, as he does not always follow the verbaldescriptions of his eyewitness. The tower was said tohave been battlemented, but this feature is not shown,either in his reconstruction drawing or in theseventeenth century sketch. The eyewitness could notremember the presence of a vestry, but this is shown .It is possible, however, that Cox recovered the outlineof this when he probed for and recovered much of theground plan of the church. Furthermore, Cox illustratesa number of carved fragments of'stone recovered fromthe fabric of the Greenbank church. In particular heshows a drawing of a voussoir, taken he says, from thesouth door. This stone is drawn with a double chevron,pellet and small cable moulding. It does not however,correspond exactly to a carved stone incorporated in thewall of the present Greenbank Funeral Parlour, Upton.This stone, much worn, shows an arch, a single chevronand pellet, and no cable moulding (Fig. 4a).Two grave slabs associated with Overchurch may alsobelong to the medieval period. Figure 4f is a drawingof a cross marked grave slab which was rescued fromthe wall of the Greenbank Funeral Parlour in the early1970s and is now in the Williamson Art Gallery(Newsletter 1982, No. 7). One slab, Figure 4e, is still insitu and is recorded as No. 13 in the graveyard survey(Appendix II).This Norman and medieval church was, by theeighteenth century, falling into decay. TheChurchwarden's accounts for the period record a seriesof repairs, starting after a great storm in 1709 when theroof and steeple were damaged (Green 1980, I). Theaccounts also include a note of payments for fencingthe churchyard in 1731. It is possible that at this periodsome of the yew trees which surround the site wereplanted (Fig. 6). There are notes of frequent ditching in1749, 1757 and 1762, and for making a new stile in1757. Evidently a gate was later built, since a bill for 1.8.41/2 was paid to J. Pendleton for making two gatesfor the churchyard in 1771, and in the same year 15/was paid to Sam. Hill for making a lock and hinges forthe gate. This may well have replaced the new stile of1757. Certainly a gate was described by Cox'seyewitness. The church was given a new slate roof aslate as 1802 (Davey E., per onal communication).Despite this work, the church was burnt and dismantledin 1813 and the building of the new church atGreenbank was begun in the ame year (Mortimer,1847, 249). It was completed in 1815 (Green, 1980,307), but some fragments were incorporated into thewall built around the Funeral parlour which lateroccupied the site. These stone include the chevronstone already referred to, two fragments of gravestoneswith inscriptions in an early eighteenth century style,and one stone which may have a mason's mark (Figs4a, 4b and 4c).In 1869, Overchurch was becoming neglected ,overgrown and overrun with rabbits.Thechurchwardens raised money to build a wall around it(Green 1980, I) and traces of a brick wall which can beseen in the ditch, especially on the north may well bepart of this .Although much overgrown at present, the churchyard ofOverchurch is a listed monument, and together with theadjacent fields, forms an area of open space surroundedby a housing estate. The area is under the control of heMetropolitan Borough of Wirral, but is open to thepublic. It is therefore subject to abuse; much rubbish isdumped, fires are lit, and the remaining grave stonesare often vandalised. In addition, the adjacent fields areused as practice runs by motorcyclists and this, to someextent, affects the remains of ridge and furrow whichcan still be clearly seen. These fields still retain theboundaries indicated on the Tithe map (Fig. 5).The Children's Home and ornamental gardens soclearly marked as Overchurch Hill House (OS 1850,XIII) was dismantled in the first half of this century,according to local memory. The garden is overgrownand the site reduced to a grass grown terrace.Considerable local interest and concern for the siteexist. Mr. Williams of Heswall, who has examined thesite with some care, talked of a slab of sandstone witha raised cross, which he says, is difficult to find in theundergrowth. It was not located in the present survey,and may possibly have been destroyed.In 1965 a small excavation was undertaken by a localteacher with a class of nine to ten year-olds. Thechildren cleared the ground of rubbish and surveyed thesite and gravestones. They dug a shallow trench wherethey hoped to find the foundations of the church. Wallfoundations were located, with fragments of slates andstained glass. They replaced the soil and stones whenfinished and little trace of this work can now be seen(Green 1980, I).In September 1977 a magnetometer survey wasundertaken by the then Department of the Environmentof the field at SJ 264891 to the north of the site(Bartlett and David, 1977, 2-3). The field shows, inappropriate light, the remains of ridge and furrow, andthe survey was aimed at testing the ground for evidence

32 cm----r32 cm· I . i . ' I ·':. .). . ,' 7{ . ,(b1 m 70"., ':,1(,cd---cm56 cm - ----.-:-·: !' . ·· { : . '. :- -. ! fir::/ef(ALL.4. Carved stone and grave covers ,roFigureF,m Overchurch.SCALESAPPROXIMATE )

D O 'Hanlon and K Pea/in76for po ible future check levels. All readings of bothlevel and tapes were double checked before beingrecorded.In drawing up the survey, no appreciable error wasnoted in the linear tape mea urements, although someminor di screpancy in the level ranging readingsoccurred. Thi was due to difficulties in sightingthrough the heavy overgrowth on the ite.The positions of graves and other surface features wereplotted both by triangulation and offsets from twointersecting base lines . The positions of as manyfeatures as possible were recorded, but as the surveyprogressed, it became obvious that there were numerousother features just below ground level. none of thesewas recorded.MAY".L A N A C IHL A N A C (17Figure 5: The site of Overchurch from the Tithe Map,Bth December 1837.of occupation . Although the report was negative, thisshould not be taken as conclusive.The surrounding area was plotted on a 1: 1250 scaleoutline plan of the whole site. Features here, such asridge and furrow, standing stones, pits and ponds, wereplotted by means of triangulation and offsets to knownfeatures .Two survey plans of the site have been prepared to thesame scale (Figs 2 and 6). Figure 2 indicates theprofiles of the site and its enclosing band and ditch.Figure 6 indicates the positions of all graves and stonesfound on the site. The suggested plan of the churchdrawn by Cox has also been indicated (Cox 1893,312-3). This however, can only be confirmed byexcavation. An Ordnance Survey plan (OS 1898)indicates a path to the church from Upton village.Surface inspection in this area showed red sandstonefragments in the bank and embedded in the roots of adead fir tree. The bank is also somewhat lower at thispoint.In conclusion it should be said that the exercise inrecording this site, while valuable in itself, will it ishoped, form a record of an area of considerable historicimportance at present under threat from moderndevelopment.Appendix I: The SurveyK. Pealin, March 1986The perimeter bank was plotted by measuredtriangulation to a temporary centre point. This pointwas also triangulated to the wall of a block of garagesadjacent to the bank. A total of thirteen points wasplotted, the positions being chosen to allowmeasurements between the points and also to plotchanges in direction of the bank. The survey team wassufficiently large to allow for the simultaneous use ofa level for profiles and range-finding to act as a checkon the measured survey. It was de