For many, frontier towns like Launceston are places that we pass through, rather than destinations in themselves. This can lead us to overlook some of the finer features of ancient sites that are almost on our doorsteps. So, it was interesting for the goodly crowd of Tamar Dowsers to descend on the cameo remanence of a once grand and wealthy ecclesiastical building.
The former Augustinian Priory in Launceston dates from the 12th century, although most of it was destroyed and largely recycled, firstly by the followers of Henry VIII and subsequently by those of Oliver Cromwell. Like its sister foundation in nearby Tavistock, so much of it has disappeared that without a guidebook you would be unlikely to find anything at all, let alone make much sense of it.
However, for the dowser, the absence of much in the way of physical remains is a puzzle
worth investigating. Despite the removal of about 90% of the structures down to their foundations - and their replacement by (now dismantled) rail yards and (long-disappeared) gas works - there are still tenuous traces that give the dowser some slight traction.
Leading off the rear of the churchyard of the more modern St Thomas’s, through a (usually locked) iron gate, lies the tantalizing residue of the prestigious priory.
The first major find, by Alan Neal, was that right along the east-west alignment of the remaining aisle is a natural geological fault, which is echoed by a wide ley line, dowsable on the surface. Larry’s Gauss Meter went into overdrive at this point, clicking away furiously. It has long been Alan’s contention that some leys have a symbiotic relationship with sub-structural faults, which form conduits for the release of electromagnetic radiation from deep in the earth’s crust. Here was a perfect example for us to investigate and consider.
Two stone sarcophagi, now looking more like overgrown flower beds than the last resting places of prominent religious leaders, lie either side of what would once have been that aisle. That they dowsed as having once held the remains of two male clerics from the 14th century was not much of a surprise - however the fact that each of the structures had once been positioned either side of the altar and had only been relocated to their current positions at a later date was quite unexpected.
In the corner of what remains of the undisturbed part of the ruins lies the tomb of Stephan Tredydan, or at least a hole in the ground where he once lay. The dowsing implied that although it may once have contained a senior figure of the priory, long before that a local King was buried here. Investigation of the sequential use of sacred sites is stock-in-trade for the dowsing fraternity. However, little is known of what stood in this place before the arrival of the Christians. At major sacred sites such as this, their over-writing of history was as comprehensive as the subsequent ground clearance of Victorian industrialists. The tomb site offered further investigative opportunities, with disturbed energy being present at a small spot to the eastern end of the grave cut. Alan felt this may have been due to detrimental energy being channeled underneath the site by a clearly detectable line of underground water.
There were major energy spirals in some of the more obvious crossing places, but these remains were once only a side aisle of the main priory complex - so who knows what wonderful whirlings can be found in the wood-yard next door.
On what would once have been the priory graveyard, the church of St Thomas has been constructed, at least in part with reclaimed masonry from the old priory structure. In one sense, this was probably the only way it could have been preserved down the centuries on this site. Three stones in the church wall, near the south porch, are quite intriguing. Two of them are in the ‘rose window’ style - but being in stone, rather than glass, the comparison with the etheric ‘pictograms’ discovered by Hamish Miller, was compelling. It had to be assumed that they were priory relics, but . . . on the other side of the porch door is the very worn remnant of a stone statue. It looked as if it were of a person who might once have held a spear erect. However, given that the stone seems to predate even the embryonic priory, who knows what he or she was once holding!
Before leaving the town we had a brief walk over to study a few other places of interest in the vicinity. The Round House, now incongruously lounging beside a busy modern roundabout, still shrouds the remaining stump of a seriously ancient market cross, apparently still in situ. A number of earth energy lines converge on the site, as do a couple of leys. We later looked for the missing cross head, which seemed to have become buried in the priory graveyard - and may once have been used as a headstone there. Another cross head on a plinth by the church, which some have thought was the missing marker, dowsed as having nothing to do with it.
Nearby an historic pack-horse bridge is now part of the park footpath over the River Kensey. A strong ley lies along the river at this point and runs straight through the supporting diamond plinth of the bridge, which itself is off centre to the structure as a whole. It also courses through a modern lamppost, although this may not have been an act of intentionally esoteric architecture.
We investigated a little island in the river, which was once host to a water-powered mill - the mill race is still in place - that had some connection with the Launceston Mint. We found the energy outlines of mainly wooden buildings of various dates, although it was difficult to make a coherent plan out of the jumble of lines in such a confined space. It was facinating to think that here on this tiny and rather neglected plot, there would once have been the sound of restless industry, stamping out the coinage for this formerly vibrant commercial hub.
Many thanks to Jacki Ellis-Martin for putting on this event - and for organising the particularly enjoyable pub-lunch in the nearby White Horse beforehand.