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The Legend of St. Kenelm

St Kenelms Lych GateThe concept of Romsley as a hunting resort ties in well with the legend of St. Kenelm, the boy-king of Mercia who was reputedly murdered whilst hunting in the forest near Clent. The legend suggests that Kenelm was the grandson of Offa (King of Mercia from 757-796), but apart from the signature of a witness called Kenelm on several Mercian charters around the year 800, there is no record of him.

Place-name evidence, however, provides a link with the Mercian Royal family in the form of Uffmoor (meaning Offa's moor). The death of a member of the royal household in a mysterious hunting accident could well have provided inspiration for the medieval monks who compiled lives of the saints. The earliest manuscripts which recount the life of St. Kenelm are contemporary with Domesday Book and specifically mention Clent as the place of his murder.

Despite its doubtful origin, the legend of St. Kenelm caught the public imagination. A shrine was erected on the boundary of Clent and Romsley at the supposed site of the murder and pilgrims calm to the place seeking forgiveness of sins and healing of ailments. The immediate area became known as Kenelmstowe (stowe meaning a place of importance). A chapel dedicated to St. Kenelm was built by the Abbot of Halesowen, who also exploited the legend in 1223 by altering the date of Halesowen's annual fair to the Feast of St Kenelm (17 July). Roger de Somery, lord of the manor of Clent, obtained a loyal charter in 1253 to hold a four-day fair at St. Kenelm's, also starting on the 17 July. Visitors were catered for at nearby farmhouses in Clent and Romsley. A large house which once stood on the site of the present-day St. Kenelm's Hall was named the Red Cow. The inn sign recalls that part of the legend which claims that a cow left its pasture and marked the place of Kenelm's burial until the body was discovered and removed to the Mercian capital of Winchcombe.

Bishop Charles Lyttelton, writing his history of Hagley about 1733, stated that no trace remained of the hamlet of Kenelmstowe, except the well St Kenelm's "(now indeed filled up), handsomely coped with stone and much resorted to both before and since the Reformation by the superstitious vulgar, for the cure of sore eyes and other maladies". He imagined that the hamlet of Kenelmstowe "continued to be well inhabited till the great road from Bromsgrove to Dudley (which anciently led directly through it) was changed and carried through the town of Hales". Bishop Lyttelton gives no date for the supposed diversion of the road through Kenelmstowe and his selective quotations from the court rolls of Romsley and Clent tend to exaggerate the size of the hamlet.

 

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