Tuesday, 29 January 2013

From the Archives of Glossop Museum of Pictures an' That

For anyone who hasn't met her, here's a Sheela-na-Gig.  This one is resplendent on the corbel table of Kilpeck Church, Herefordshire, where she has cheered up visitors for centuries.
Her precise meaning isn't certain, academics being too shy to say "Up my wigwam, big boy!" They mention that 'they are often positioned over doors or windows, presumably to protect these openings,' (Bumsquash and Rattlesnake, 1904), when Sheela's probably only there to cheer on any locals trying to have a tuppenny upright.  Against the church door.

It's nice to know that the church once favoured causes like this. Modern churches, of course, don't usually have them; but Sheela still finds expression in the Australian colloquialism 'Sheila' which refers to any female woman of the opposite sex - and provides a fascinating insight into the psyche of the Australian male.

The Sheela-na-Gig,  in Sligo Town, has also become just another name for another Irish pub, again reflecting the aspirations and expectations of the drinking Irishman.  Or, indeed, the Irish drinking man. (Potterton & Wyndebagge, 1932).

Sadly, all this refreshing realism was swept away under the metaphorical carpet during the Victorian era. The Obscene Publications Act 1857 banned works 'written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in any well-regulated mind', but an amendment to this Act made by Lord Chief Justice in 1868 included anything that could corrupt, whether this was intended or not.  It led to the banning of medical textbooks, bird-spotters' handbooks and the sale of chicken portions.

However, it is questionable whether the Lord Chief Justice really had a 'well-regulated mind'.  His name was Cockburn.


  1. This image has troubled me since it first appeared a few days ago. As something of an authority on The Daft Things You Find on Churches, I suggest that this particular piece of stonemasonry is a relatively recent fake, showing as it does a person displaying an empty melon. Melons were unknown in Hertfordshire until 1953.

  2. While it's true that melons were unknown in Hertfordshire until 1953, you have failed to notice that the delights of Kilpeck Church reside in HEREFORDSHIRE, close to the border with Wales. The Welsh have been hoarding melons since before the Norman Conquest, where they were highly prized and deemed worthy of sculptural representation.

  3. Bugger. My mistake. But surely you're not sticking to your assertion that this carving is genuine ? Whilst melons may have been common in Herefordshire for ages, alopecia first appeared in that neck of the woods in 1975.

  4. This carving's genuine, all right. Why, there's even a family photo of Uncle Percy leering at it, dating from the twelfth century.


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