– A county gem
I like the esoteric, especially when it can be unearthed in our county, which on first glance to anyone passing through on the M6 offers little but over farmed land and sprawling industrial estates.
One of the gems of the county is Shugborough Hall and the estate that surrounds it. Nestled at the edge of the equally mysterious Cannock Chase, even its name has dark undertones. ‘Shug’ is an old word which like ‘shuck’, a creature of cryptozoological nature. ‘Borough’ is a stronghold or fort, but occasionally is taken as a form of the word ‘barrow’, a burial site.
Now there are many things relating to this area that I could write, but today I write about a monument in the grounds of Shugborough Hall. This weekend I visited the estate and for the first time I purposefully visited the Shepherd Monument. It is large, towering considerably above me. Framed by Greek or Roman looking columns and carvings that crudely resemble a wooden arch there are many things to feast they eyes upon within the monument. And there is a mystery….
The common myth is that the Shepherd Monument is linked somehow to the location of the holy grail though this theory is regularly debunked, as entertaining as it sounds.
I’d be inclined to agree with the debunkers, as i personally doubt the existence of such a grail at all. However, the monument is still rather interesting. Now, I am not an academic. My education does not extend towards history, folklore or otherwise. I am merely an interested individual, and as such I will share my thoughts.
The monument is a mishmash of all sorts of styles and contains hidden meaning without a doubt. At the bottom is a sequence of letters – O U O S V A V V, between the letters D M. That is the aspect that arouses most interest. The area in which this ‘code’ sits is easily large enough to fit a non-abbreviated text so the intent does appear to be to hide something.
This code is world famous as an uncrackable cyphertext though many have suggested Latin meanings or other theories based on numerology and so on. In the past even Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin both tried to solve it without success. Try any search engine and you will find any number of solutions to the code, none of which are universally accepted.
There is a carving above the code, a mirror image of Nicolas Poussin’s painting, the Shepherds of Arcadia.
Why a mirror image? There are letters within the carving, the phrase ET IN ARCADIA EGO (“I am also in Arcadia”). Fingers point to the letters ‘N’ and ‘R’ within the phrase. How should this be interpreted?
There’s also an extra tomb in the carving. Whose tomb? There are two creepy carved heads on the monument, an old man or woman’s face smiling (it is worn) and a man with horns, perhaps a depiction of Pan?
The monument was commissioned by 1st Earl of Lichfield Thomas Anson (1695-1773). The monument was built sometime between 1748 and 1763 by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. Anson who was a member of parliament but also a member of various other societies including, is t is said, the Freemasons.
There are similar things said of Poussin who was associated with The Priory of Scion, a secret and perhaps bogus society. Yet still, this only adds to the air of mystery.
It all makes for an intriguing puzzle. Perhaps a simple monument to a loved one, a structure with deeply hidden meanings, or even just a rich man’s hoax.
Shugborough has plenty of mystery if you know where to look. The Shepherd Monument is certainly a fascinating part of it, whatever you believe.
musician, film maker and performing artist
Jonathon Watkiss aka John E Smoke is a musician, film maker and performing artist from Stafford, Staffordshire. He has a keen interest in local history, especially when it crosses over into folklore and the paranormal. His first film was The Doxey Boggart which explored the possible existence of a creature/entity dwelling in the marshland surrounding Stafford. His second film ‘Bones Picked’ has been described as a folklore Jackanory and uses folk tales from across the county as its basis. Both films are currently screening on the film festival circuit including appearances at Ventana Sur and Cannes. Future projects he has planned include a documentary about paranormal activities on Cannock Chase and a survival horror set at the site of the Fauld explosion.