The secrets and mysteries of historical graffiti in Lincolnshire

A carving from 1642 when Tattershall was a Royalist Guarrison during the English Civil War

In Lincolnshire, we’re investigating a range of historical graffiti through a number of new surveys at Tattershall Castle and Belton, which is telling us fascinating new stories about the histories of these special places. Much of the graffiti discovered recently has previously never been seen...

Our discovery of new Isaac Newton graffiti made quite a few headlines in December, but that's not the only finds we've been investigating across Lincolnshire. Over at Tattershall Castle, volunteers working with James Wright of the University of Nottingham have come across various marks ranging across livery, local wildlife, and witchcraft.

This research, co-funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will contribute towards James’ PhD on the archaeology and landscape of the site, as well as benefit the future conservation management of Tattershall - and your future visits.

Below are a few examples of the types of graffiti found at Tattershall, including this  stonemason’s rough sketch for a window in the Great Tower, which was never actually realised.

A stonemason's working drawing at Tattershall Castle, probably inscribed as part of the design process for the Great Tower windows.
A stonemason's working drawing at Tattershall Castle, probably inscribed as part of the design process for the Great Tower windows.
A stonemason's working drawing at Tattershall Castle, probably inscribed as part of the design process for the Great Tower windows.

In the Guardhouse, a fish design (possibly of a carp) reflects what the artist could see out of their window in the freshwater rivers and ponds.

Did a guard scratch this into the stone, inspired by the nature aorund him at Tattershall?
Etching of a fish, possibly carp, on a window ledge in the guardhouse at Tattershall Castle.
Did a guard scratch this into the stone, inspired by the nature aorund him at Tattershall?

The ragged staff of the Duke of Warwick Sir Thomas Neville, brother of the kingmaker Richard, appears on the walls of the redbrick keep, which hints at a facinating tale of the castle's history.

Sir Thomas married Maud Stanhope at Tattershall Castle in 1453 (a neice of Ralph Cromwell, the lord of Tattershall), for political benefits.

An etching of a ragged staff, the livery badge of the Earls of Warwick.
An etching of a ragged or 'jagged' staff, the livery badge of the Earls of Warwick.
An etching of a ragged staff, the livery badge of the Earls of Warwick.

After the couple left the castle, they were ambushed at Heworth Moor by the Percy family, and a violent skirmish broke out. It’s possible this carving was made by one of the Neville household during the wedding festivities.

Now we fast forward to the early years of the English Civil War, when Tattershall became a royalist garrison. One graffiti mark, stating ‘James Gibson 1642’, could have been made by a member of the castle garrison during that turbulent time.

An etching of 'James Gibson 1642', who could have been a member of the castle garrison.
A carving from 1642 when Tattershall was a Royalist Guarrison during the English Civil War
An etching of 'James Gibson 1642', who could have been a member of the castle garrison.

The team also found a compass mark, which is a form of ritual protection. Such designs are carved to protect the building and occupants from possession by demons or witches, during a time when belief in evil was very real.

It was commonly thought that demons were a bit dim, and if they saw a line they would follow it to the end. Therefore by creating an endless line, the demons would follow it and become trapped.

Doors, windows and chimneys were seen as spiritually vulnerable, as it was thought evil spirits travelled through the air. These parts of a building were susceptible to drafts, and therefore seen at most risk.

A compass or hexafoil design ritual mark found at Tattershall
A compass or hexafoil design ritual mark found at Tattershall, etched into the side of a window arch
A compass or hexafoil design ritual mark found at Tattershall

Similar protection marks were also found at Belton. MJC Associates and National Trust volunteers discovered ritual protection marks when surveying the stable block, originally created to protect the building and those inside from evil.

Marks found take the form of the compass, as found at Tattershall, as well as VV signs and hexafoils/daisy wheels. Also found at Belton, was a rarer unexpected protection sign called an ‘Ausklis Cross’ - which looks a bit like a star.

National Trust
Etchings on the walls of the stable block at Belton
National Trust

The symbol is mostly found in eastern European amongst more common ritual marks. In the Latvian tradition, it’s one of twelve ‘holy signs’ used until very recently.

The symbols is regarded as being a ‘sky’ symbol, associated with stars and night time, and regarded as one of the most powerful symbols for driving away evil spirits.

It was believed that the stars brought light and drive out darkness. Bed linen decorated with the symbol would protect those who slept beneath it during the night, when they were considered to be at their most vulnerable. Until this discovery at Belton, the sign’s presence within the UK has been largely overlooked.  

An etching at Tattershall, of a person wearing a buttoned up jacket and hat.
A charming etching of a person in profile wearing a buttoned up jacket and hat.
An etching at Tattershall, of a person wearing a buttoned up jacket and hat.

Nearby at The Workhouse, Southwell, in Nottinghamshire you can see etchings made by Victorian pauper residents, including this sundial found in the Working Men's yard.

Graffiti on Workhouse wall, the work of an unknown pauper
Graffiti on Workhouse wall created by pauper
Graffiti on Workhouse wall, the work of an unknown pauper

Have you spotted any interesting graffiti on your travels? Share them with us online via social media with @NTMidlands.