(Image: August Schwerdfeger. Lud’s Church, a Lollard meeting place in Peakland)
In a Staffordshire woodland near the River Dane called Back Forest, west of Gradbach, a deep chasm in the millstone grit has become woven into the fabric of local folkore. Over the centuries this narrow gorge – penetrating 60 feet of bedrock – known as Lud’s Church has been associated with figures of popular legend, and linked to the persecuted Lollard movement, those Christian pre-Protestant followers of Roman Catholic dissident John Wycliffe.
Situated on the edge of the beautiful Peak District National Park three miles west of the main Leek to Buxton (A53) road, Lud’s Church (sometimes known as Ludchurch) is a haven for flora and fauna; a humid environment where dense mosses cling to its jagged cliffs and sunlight struggles to penetrate on even the warmest summer days.
(Image: August Schwerdfeger. The chasm may be named after Walter de Lud Auk)
Carved from the rough carboniferous sandstone of Roaches Grit, which formed across the South West Peak during the Namurian stage, it’s unknown precisely how the chasm got its name, but Lud’s Church may have been named after Walter de Ludank (or Lud-Auk), a Lollard worshipper rumoured to have been captured there during a secret meeting.
According to Wikipedia: “A wooden ship’s figurehead from the ship Swythamley formerly stood in a high niche above the chasm, placed there by Philip Brocklehurst, then the landowner, around 1862. It was called ‘Lady Lud’ and was supposed to commemorate the death of the daughter of a Lollard preacher.”
This account appears to be supported by the Guardian, which says the name may have come from the Celtic god Llud, but concedes that Walter de Lud Auk is a more likely candidate. According to the newspaper: “One day a raid took place during one of these services and Walter’s daughter, Alice, was accidentally shot.”
Local legend tells of Alice’s ghost haunting Lud’s Church, along with “a headless figure echoing the beheading ritual of Gawain and the Green Knight.” Whatever your personal beliefs, the Arthurian reference is notable for the chasm’s connection to the Green Chapel, where in the chivalric romance Sir Gawain of the Round Table faced the Green Knight one last time. Based on the anonymous author’s description, the Green Chapel is thought to be either Lud’s Church or nearby Nan Tor.
(Image: Neil Theasby. Steps leading out of Ludchurch)
But Sir Gawain and the Green Knight aren’t the only mythical characters linked to Lud’s Church. Robin Hood and Friar Tuck – whose names appear often in the folklore of the region – are rumoured to have used the chasm as a hide out. So too, supposedly, did “The Young Pretender” Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stuart of Jacobite fame.
But its Walter de Lud-Auk and the Lollards, the persecuted religious movement active from the mid-14th century until the Reformation, that Ludchurch is most commonly associated. Today, the deep gorge in the South West Peak is a popular tourist destination. Like many rock faces in Peakland, the so-called Green Chapel has proved popular with climbers. But nowadays the activity is discouraged in a bid to protect the fragile ecosystem within.
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