Monuments and Memorials

Medieval Penn Floor Tiles

The Penn tileries formed the most extensive, successful and well-organised commercial tile industry in medieval Britain. For over 40 years of the 14th century, between 1350 and 1380s, Penn tilers secured something very close to a monopoly in the South-East of England.  They were manufacturing vast quantities of floor and roof tiles for royal palaces, monasteries and churches, manor houses and rich merchants’ houses, in London and the surrounding counties, including Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. l A gazetteer by Laurence Keen suggests that Penn tiles were used at some 180 sites across 18 counties outside London.  The distances involved and the constant mention of Penn and Penn tilers by name, argue that they had easily surpassed any rivals in both workmanship and price.

No local memory of these Penn tilers, whose industry completely dominated the parish in its day, has survived, other than that provided by the place name Tylers Green and a road name, Clay Street. Nonetheless, we know far more about the workings of this 14th century tilery than any other, both because there are so many well documented royal orders and because tiles have been found in hundreds of different locations.  A good deal of research has been done over the last 70 years, notably Christopher Hohler, who opened up the whole subject with his thorough field work and his two comprehensive articles in Records of Buckinghamshire, in 1941 and 1942. One of his stated purposes was to bring out the importance of the tileworks at Penn and he drew and numbered all the known Penn tiles (in a series beginning with P) and thus laid the foundations for their accurate recognition.

Tile Kiln found at Rose Cottage on Elm Road, Penn 2003

Penn’s only surviving kiln – A 17th C roof tile kiln has recently been found that is very similar indeed to the typical medieval floor tile kiln, except that it is made of flat bricks 9 x 4 x 2 ins (220 x 100 x 50mm) rather than of tiles and the oven is a little longer at just over 7 ft (2.20m) long and 6 ft wide (1.8m) internally. It is aligned east-west, at right angles to Elm Road, the main road (B474) through Penn, in the garden of Rose Cottage (recently badly damaged by fire), next to the entrance to the Penn & Tylers Green Sports Club. The kiln was discovered in June 2001 because a newly adopted planning policy requires an archaeological evaluation before any new building or extensions are allowed along Elm Road and Church Road. The furnace with the oven above was set below ground level, as was usual, and the walls have survived to a height of 4ft 3 ins (1.3m). The kiln bars forming the floor of the oven were supported about 1 ft 4ins above the floor of the furnace. The oven walls would have been higher but had been deliberately collapsed into the furnace chamber after the kiln had gone out of use.

A typical 14th century tile kiln with front wall removed to show the inside. this drawing is an imaginative reconstruction based on all the information available. Tilers are shown preparing for firing by putting firewoood into one of the two stoke holes, bringing a box of tiles and stacking them in the kiln. Drawn by Mike Lamont.

Fragments of eleven medieval Penn tiles were found in the rubble of the furnace and stokehole. Some of them are wasters or unfinished, indicating that they may have been made on or close to the site although they were not found in their original medieval context. Five of them were nearly whole and were recognisably those classified by Hohler or variants of them.

Two separate, tile-built walls were revealed by the same trial trench, both orientated parallel to the main road and at right angles to the kiln. One was unusually wide at 2 ft 6 ins (0.75m) and was well-made of courses of fragments of plain square floor tiles and roof tiles. The report tentatively proposed that the tiles used indicated a 17th or 18th C building used as a drying or storage shed, but a subsequent reassessment has suggested that the wide, well-built tile wall could have been part of an earlier medieval kiln. It may be that the orientation with the stokehole at the west end was with the deliberate intention of taking advantage of the prevailing westerly winds to fan the flames in the fire boxes.

The survival of roof tilers – There is documentary evidence that roof tilemaking survived in Penn after the 14th C, supplying local needs. For instance, the great barn of Bassetsbury Manor in High Wycombe was repaired in 1411 with 1,000 plain tiles costing 3s 4d per 1000 with 12d for carriage from Penn. In 1512, there is a reference to a ‘tyle house lying at tyler-ende’ in Penn. The fact that the tiles were worthy of note suggests that ordinary buildings were not tiled, but probably thatched. In 1552, an inventory of goods in Penn Church untypically ends with the statement ‘The church is tyled’, which probably refers to the medieval floor tiles rather than the roof. The Penn parish register for 1580 records the burial of John Playter, a tiler. Physical evidence of the survival of the industry is provided by the late 17th C roof tile kiln found in 2001 at Rose Cottage, Elm Road

Tyler End Green  –  The name Tylers Green still reminds us of the local importance of the tilers. Tyler End, as a hamlet of Penn, is recorded in a 1493 property deed. It replaced an earlier name of Garrett Green or Gerrards Green, presumably in the 14th C.  The name Tyler End Green was used for the next four hundred years until the ‘End’ started to drop out of use during the 18th C.  The 1841 census still had Tylers End Green, but it was Tylers Green, Penn in the 1851 census, although even in 1854, Zachariah Wheeler, who was building St Margaret’s Church, was still referring to the ‘tilend green church’.  As a hamlet grew up on the Wycombe side of the border, it borrowed the name of Tyler End Green from Penn and has now become Tylers Green.  Clay Street and Potters Cross are two more place names in the parish associated with working clay.

1918 Penn Church – The parish register notes that, in 1918, Lord Howe retiled the chancel floor in marble. Hohler recorded that tiles out of Penn Church had strayed into the Herts County museum at St Albans and he drew the seven different designs that he saw there. These chancel tiles are now in the Verulamium Museum. The nave floor was stripped of tiles during the 19th C and replaced by a timber floor between the pews.

The cover of the book ‘Medieval Penn Floor Tiles’ is an artists impression of how the original chancel floor might have looked.

1967  Mosaic tiles in Penn church grave  –  the Vicar of Penn, The Rev. Oscar Muspratt, found tiles lining two graves just outside the door to the north porch of the church, but there was only time for a quick examination of one and a half of them.  He sent 19 tiles to Elizabeth Eames at the British Museum, who was particularly impressed by two of the floor tiles that are now in Penn’s Lady Chapel, because they are totally different from all other Penn tiles.  They seem to have been made by the method which preceded the use of any stamp, that of incising as a freehand drawing, since lines cross eachother beyond the point where they should end.  Both are the central parts of a mosaic and are the first evidence of this earlier mosaic technique to be found in Penn.  The presence of both types together in the grave suggests that both techniques were being used at the same time or had at least overlapped. The much more laborious manufacture of mosaic shapes was finally abandoned after the Black Death in favour of the simpler and cheaper square tiles.

One of the tile fragments is about a quarter of a round tile or roundel, originally about 8 ½ ins (225mm) in diameter, and is decorated with the outlined figure of a pilgrim with staff and satchel with a border inscribed .. M SEMPER A…  The other is a lion’s face in profile on an octagonal tile about 6 ½ inches (160mm) across.  Both had been coated with white slip and the incised decoration appeared as brown lines on yellow.  Both seem to have been wasters as a result of breakage. Their fabric is comparable with that of the usual Penn tiles.

There were a further 17 tiles, of which five were plain green glazed and three were plain yellow.  The presence of stabbing holes on the base of three of the plain green tiles was unusual for Penn but typical of an earlier ‘Stabbed Wessex series’, which Elizabeth Eames had thought might have been the work of an itinerant band of tilers. There were eight decorated fragments, in seven different designs, of which five have not been found elsewhere in Penn and only one is of a design known to have been laid in Penn church itself.

Following the retirement of the Rev, Oscar Muspratt, a further 32 floor tile fragments were found in the vicarage, wrapped up in 1967 newspaper.  He later thought that they must have come from the graves outside the north porch door, in addition to those he had sent to the British Museum.  There was one unrecorded tile of particular interest.  It was a complete polygonal tile with a fabric apparently similar to the other tiles in the grave.  It was decorated with the crudely drawn head of a lion or mythical beast that appears to have been part of a 9-tile mosaic requiring a large octagonal tile at its centre.  This octagonal tile would have had a side of about 2 ¾ inches (72mm), much the same size as the incised example with a lion’s face discussed above, although these two particular tiles are not contemporary.

Apart from the mosaic polygonal tile, there were varying numbers of seven known designs. Altogether, 23 out of the 32 pieces had matching designs with the earlier British Museum collection from the grave, but there was only one shared design with the tiles that used to be in the church itself.

The focus of the Penn tile industry  –  The vast majority of tile finds have come from the three gardens, Grass Side, Cobblers and Yew Tree Cottage, all of which back on to the same large clay pit at the end of Beacon Hill.  Two reported kiln sites (T1 & T2) are close by, and it is also noteworthy that Slades Garage, which was formerly a blacksmith, is adjacent.  The record shows that there has been a blacksmith on the same site since the 18th C and it could well be that 14th C blacksmiths were working there making lath nails and iron-bound forms for the tilers, shoeing their horses and repairing their carts.

Chemical analysis of the tiles and other ceramics has not yet been able to distinguish between different clay sources in the same production area and so we have to rely on tile designs for clues about where particular tiles were made. This may seem a hopeless cause but the table below is surprisingly informative:

Site where tiles           No.of different    Same designs in           Same designs in
were found                  designs found   Beacon Hill gardens    Stratfords Cottage

Penn Church (chancel)                7                                5                                     1
Aerary, Windsor Castle             10                                8                                     1
Amersham Church                      3                                3                                     0
Missenden Abbey                       6                                 3                                     2
St Albans                                      8                                 3                                     5

This is only a snapshot, but it does suggests that a Beacon Hill kiln was the source of most, if not all the tiles used on the first three sites and that this area was the main focus of the tile industry, at least in the 1350s when the Aerary floor was laid. The finds at Beacon Hill of the   earlier designs – the St Alban’s type tile and the 6 inch square tile – also show that tiles were being made there before the Black Death.  Only 4 out of 14 designs found at Stratfords Cottage match those from Beacon Hill and this suggests different tileries with different markets, though with some overlap of popular designs as might be expected.

2002 Lady Chapel Millennium floor tile project – There have not been any Penn tiles on display to the public in Penn or Tylers Green, following the removal of those in the chancel of Penn Church in 1918. It was therefore decided that they should be built into the Lady Chapel as part of its Millennium restoration. The British Museum readily returned those that had been submitted for an opinion in 1967 and a local appeal produced a generous response, with a very large number coming from the garden of Grass-Side in Church Road.

25 different designs have been used to make up a mosaic on the altar platform and they are set in a surround of Bath stone. A centre of complete, newly made tiles of a typical Penn four- tile design, gives a very good idea of how a complete floor would have looked when it was laid. Mrs Diana Hall, of Wimborne St Giles, Dorset, made these new tiles, following the same methods of preparation, forming, decorating and glazing as the 14th C tilers, although using a modern gas kiln. The colour and appearance of the original tiles has been captured very effectively and the overall effect is both informative and pleasing.

For more detailed information see Miles Green’s book ‘Medieval Penn Floor Tiles’ available from the  Penn and Tylers Green Website.

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John and Elizabeth de la Penne 1521/1537

The earliest surviving monument to anyone from Penn that I have found is a brass to John and Elizabeth de la Penne in St Mary’s, Amersham. It is a surprise to find that although the Muster Returns of 1522 show that John Penne was the biggest landowner in Penn with some 500‐600 acres he was living in Amersham ‘within the town’ where he was assessed with the second highest figure for moveable goods and a further 200 or so acres. He was the ‘firmarius’ or farmer of the Amersham glebe land, a role which also carried the responsibility for care of the church and churchyard.

Although the Penne family were lords of the manor of Penn they did not hold the patronage of Penn Church until Henry VIII granted it to John’s eldest son, David and his wife Sybil (neé Hampden) in 1541 and so John’s residence and burial in Amersham is less surprising. As a consequence of royal grants and patronage, the Penne family were to acquire much more land in and around Penn in the following century and thereafter they were all buried in Penn Church.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

There is a plaque on the front of Penn House with the date ‘1536’ which Earl Howe is pretty sure is a souvenir ‐ and a genuine one ‐ from the Tudor house, two thirds of which was pulled down in c.1760.

The memorial brass is on the floor just inside the door of St Andrew’s Chapel in St Mary’s  Amersham. It shows John in civil dress rather than in the armour more usual in a landed family and he is described as ‘Magister John Penne’ in a will of 1520, which translates as ‘Master’ to indicate his social status. The same title was also used for the Rector of Amersham, the Vicar of Penn and another lord of the manor and could have indicated an MA. The French form of his name as ‘de la penne’ on the brass had gone out of fashion a century and a half earlier, and he was not using it when he appeared in the court hearing of 1520 or in 1496 when he was recorded as John Pen. Its use would seem to be a proud assertion of his ancient lineage. No brasses of any contemporaries survive in St Mary’s, which again tends to confirm his comparatively high status.

(continued …… (7))

The previous article noted that earliest surviving monument to anyone from Penn seems to be the memorial brass to John and Elizabeth de la Penne, which is now under the carpet just inside the door of St Andrew’s Chapel in St Mary’s Amersham. It shows John in civil dress rather than in the armour more usual in a landed family, but a proud assertion of his ancient lineage would seem indicated by his use of the French form of his name which had gone out of fashion a century and a half earlier.

The Monumental Brasses of Buckinghamshire notes that two parts of the original brass have been lost – a depiction of 5 sons and 6 daughters as well as two shields bearing the arms of husband and wife – and observes that John’s date of death has been added later to the brass. The brasses were moved from the south transept to the north transept (now St Andrew’s Chapel) in 1973, but as there is no mention of the depiction of sons and daughters in a record of 1847 (George Lipscomb’s History and antiquities of the County of Buckingham), the damage must have been done earlier, perhaps in a move from the chancel. The style of engraving is of a London workshop of that period. The later addition of John’s date of death in 1537 indicates that the brass was engraved around the time of the earlier death of his wife Elizabeth, in 1521. A space (shown on  the right in yellow highlight) was left blank for John’s date from ‘obiit’ in line 4 below to ‘quor’ on the next line, but it was restricted and so the inscription is in a considerably more contracted form than his wife’s.

The inscription is in Latin, as was still generally the custom at that time before the Reformation, and the many contractions makes the words difficult to read, particularly when combined with the scribe’s uncertain Latin and difficult Tudor script. The original inscription has a line above a word or a superscript to indicate a contraction. The letters omitted are shown in red in the transcript below:

Orate pro anīmabus Johannīs de la penne et Elizabeth uxoris eius filie Petri Hally
Pray for the souls of John de la penne and of his wife Elizabeth daughter of Peter Hally

Armigeri que quaedem Elizabeth obiit vicesimo primo die mensis
Esquire and the certain (same) Elizabeth died on the twenty first day of the month

Novembris Anno uni millesimo v°xxj°
of November in the one thousandth year 5 hundred and 21

Et Idem Johannis obiit xxvij die mense decembris
And the same John died on the 27th day in the month of December

Anno uni m v xxxvij quorum animabus pro’picíetur Deus. Amen.
in the one thousandth year 5 hundred and 37 may God have mercy on their souls. Amen.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.6,7, December 2007, February, 2008
Photographs © courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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Elizabeth Rok 1540

The earliest brass in Penn Church was originally in the Lady Chapel but was moved in c.1950, to the present grouping of brasses in the south aisle when the World War II memorial was set up by the Rev.Oscar Muspratt. It is to Elizabeth Rok who died in 1540 and shows a woman dressed in a shroud, a popular form at that time, usually quite small as this one is. It is fixed to a slab of Purbeck marble and the style of engraving is of a London workshop of that period.

There is a broken scroll above the head with the words ‘In the day of Judgement, Lorde d(eliver me) The inscription is as follows:

God which art Creatour & Redemer of all
faithfull people
Graunt unto ye Soule of Elizabeth Rok thy
servaunt & also to
the Soules of all trew bilevers depted
Remyssyon of all their synes
that through devout prayours they may
attayne thy gracious
pdon whiche they have alwey dsyed by crist
our lord Amen
9 AUGUST 1540

By 1540, Henry VIII’s Reformation had been underway for ten years. In 1538 every parish church was ordered, for the first time, to have an English bible and the wording of the inscription breathes the spirit and language of the first English Prayer Book which was to appear in 1549.

No other mention of this lady has been found so far, but it seems likely that she was the first beneficiary of Henry VIII’s largesse when Chacombe Priory was dissolved in 1535 and so was the first lay proprietor of Penn Church.

Burial in the Lady Chapel was a considerable privilege and indicates a high status. A search of the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII for this year  should establish this. It was not until the year after she died, in 1541, that Henry VIII granted all Chacombe Priory’s rights and possessions to David and Sybil Penne in recognition of her care of his son, the future Edward VI.

There is no record of Elizabeth Rok’s burial because although churches were ordered to keep a register of all baptisms, marriages and burials from 1538, Penn’s register does not survive until 20 years later. This may have been in part because, in 1539, the Vicar of Penn was himself put in Aylesbury Gaol ‘on account of the utterance by him of certain opprobrious words’. He had presumably been unwise in expressing his view of new arrangements. However, he survived and was suffering from the plague the following year and at some stage seems to have abandoned priestly celibacy for marriage. He stayed as vicar for many

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.8, April 2009.
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton, ARPS.

David Penne (d.1564) & Sybil Penne (d.1562) Part 1

John Penne, who, as we have seen in an earlier article (Monuments No.6), lived in Amersham, was succeeded as lord of the manor by his son David, who was probably born around 1500 since he himself had a son, John, in 1534. The parish registers do not survive from before 1559, but anyway David would have been brought up in Amersham. Penn House was rebuilt, in 1536 if the plaque on the front is to be believed, probably by David and his wife Sybil (written variously as Sibille and Sibell) Hampden early on in their marriage, although the arms on the second small stone plaque below the first are those of Sarah Shallcross, a 17th-century Penne wife.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

Henry VIII by Holbein 1536-7 (NPG)

Sybil was a Hampden on both sides. They were a wealthy family, well-connected at Court, and it was a family relation, Sir William Sydney, Chamberlain and Steward of the infant Prince’s household, who recommended her to the then all-powerful Thomas Cromwell. In 1538, she was appointed ‘dry norrice’ to the one year-old Prince Edward whose mother, Jane Seymour, had died a few days after his birth. It must have been a daunting task. She was young, probably still in her 20s with five young children of her own and looking after Henry VIII’s son and heir was an immensely important and probably risky undertaking. According to Sir William’s son, who was brought up with the prince, she was his ‘only nurse’ and slept with the young prince every night for the first five years ‘so long as he remained in women’s government’.

The frequent marks of royal favour and exchanges of gifts over the ensuing years show that she was highly esteemed by Henry VIII and his successors. She remained at Court all her life serving Mary as a Woman of the Queen’s Privy Chamber and Elizabeth as a Lady of the Bedchamber. The royal nursery moved between Havering, Hampton and Ashridge near Berkhamsted, and since her own children were contemporaries with the King’s (John was a year younger than Elizabeth) they may well have played together. As we have already seen (Monuments No 5), Elizabeth I was to appoint John Penne to a lucrative role as her Escheator and largely ignore his family’s recusancy. In 1561, she gave a generous ‘New Yeres gift’ of £18 sterling to the ‘sometyme nource to our dere and well beloved brother King Edward the Sixt’.

The last portrait of Edward VI before he died
of TB aged 15. he is gallantly imitating his
father’s stance in the Holbein portrait (NPG)

In 1539, ‘David Penne and Sibille, his wife’ were granted an annuity of £40 during her lifetime ‘in consideration of her services as nurse to Prince Edward, the heir apparent’. Later the same year, shortly after the dissolution of Missenden Abbey (which her own family had helped establish in the 12th-century), she wrote to Cromwell asking for its lease from the King, but was not successful Two years later, ‘in consideration of her services in the nurture and education of Prince Edward’, and apparently after she had successfully nursed Edward through a fever, Henry VIII granted her for life all the rights and interests in Penn that had formerly been enjoyed by Chacombe Priory. This was the rectory (probably centred on Parsonage Farm) which was farmed out at the time to Richard Balam and included two cottages (possibly Crown and Church Cottages near the church). Altogether it was worth £8-13-4d p.a., representing over 300 acres, together with the patronage of Penn Church.

At the same time, she also received the small neighbouring manor of Beamond and the rectory and patronage of Little Missenden, both of which had belonged to the monastery of Bicester in Oxfordshire, worth £13-6-8d p.a;. the manor of Holmer in Little Missenden that had belonged to manor of Burnham; and the small manor or farm called Auffrikkes in Little Missenden that had belonged to Godstow monastery in Oxfordshire and was worth £3-6-8d p.a.

The grant stipulated that after Sybil’s death a yearly rent of £2-10-8d, representing 1/40th part of a knight’s fee, would have to be paid to the King, but in 1553, just two months before his early death, Edward VI confirmed these grants to her and her heirs in freehold. They almost trebled the Penn family land-holding in the parish and its immediate area, and 456 years later, Earl Howe, her direct descendant, is still patron of both Penn and Little Missenden churches and owns a good deal of the same property.

Despite their significance in the history of both the family and the parish, there is no surviving monument to either David or Sybil Penne in Penn Church and the next article will suggest why this is and retell a good ghost story.

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.9, June 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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David Penne (d.1564) & Sybil Penne (d.1562), Part 2

We have seen that it was probably David and Sybil Penne who rebuilt Penn House in 1536 and that in 1538 Sybil was appointed to the highly responsible and prestigious role of looking after the year-old prince who was to become Edward the Sixth. She was richly rewarded with land, churches and generous gifts which trebled the Penn family’s property and set their descendants on a course of good marriages and increasing prosperity for the next 350 years, right up to the start of the 20th-century when high taxes and profligate spending started to take its toll.

Sybil Penne’s life-sized effigy in her monument in Hampton Church

Sybil Penne, as we have seen, remained at Court all her life and died of smallpox at Hampton Court Palace on 6 November 1562. She was a Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber and was probably nursing the young Queen Elizabeth, not yet 30, who had caught smallpox and very nearly died of the disease three weeks earlier. Indeed, at the point of crisis she was unconscious, her doctors thought she would die and her Council were in an adjoining room discussing the momentous question of the succession. The Queen herself believed she was dying and had made provision accordingly. It is intriguing to think that Sybil Penn’s care – she had known and looked after Elizabeth since childhood – might have played a significant part in England’s history, which would have been very different had Elizabeth died.

Sybil was buried in the chancel of Hampton Church and a fine monument was erected consisting of a recumbent life-sized effigy of her under a marble canopy supported on pillars. A rhyming epitaph extols her virtues including the lines, ‘Twoo queens that sceptre bare, gave credit to this dame…..Before eche joye, yea and her life, her Princes health prefard…’.

The church was struck by lightning and in 1829 it was pulled down and rebuilt. Sybil’s monument was moved to near the staircase leading to the organ loft and according to some contemporary reports, the tomb was irreverently disturbed and her remains scattered.

Sybil Penne as depicted on a wall
painting around a door at the rear
of Hampton Church.
Her monument effigy appears
to have been used as a model.

Immediately afterwards, so the story goes, strange noises as of a woman working at a spinning wheel, and muttering the while, were heard through the wall of a room in Hampton Court Palace. A hidden chamber was discovered in which there was an antique spinningwheel and the old oak floor boards were worn away where the treadle struck them. In the 1880s there were frequent accounts of seeing ‘Mrs Penn’s tall gaunt form’ around the haunted room and gallery, exactly corresponding with the appearance of the effigy on the tomb, and of the low whirring of an unseen spinning-wheel, a sepulchral voice and a stealthy tread. There was also another, surprisingly well-authenticated sighting in 1905.

There are monumental brasses to four of the five generations of the Penne family of the Tudor and Stuart periods, and the only one missing is to David and Sybil Penne. David died on 3 February 1565, just over two years after his wife, and his will directed that his body was to be buried in Penn chancel, ‘among myne ancestors’. He also directed that the body of his wife should be removed from the place where she was then buried and be placed beside his body. An alternative account of when Sybil’s tomb was moved in 1829 was that ‘only a little yellow hair and a few hair-pins’ were found in the grave, suggesting that her body had been previously removed. However, there is no record that this was ever done and it may be that her absence is why no brass was ever prepared – unless of course it was lost or damaged when the family brasses were all moved to the south aisle.

Penn Family Tree, 16th to 18th century, (PDF opens in new window)

© Miles Green, Penn Parish Newsletter, No.10, June 2009
Photographs courtesy Eddie Morton ARPS

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