St. Mary’s, Warwick

St Mary’s Church is in the centre of Warwick and, like Warwick itself, oozes history from its walls. It is easily reachable in a few hours from London by train from the delightfully antiquated Marylebone Station. If you’re coming by bike, Warwick is on National Cycle Route 41, and a ride from Stratford-upon-Avon is very possible indeed. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be an option of making the trip up the Avon by boat, although the Avon can be packed with many Shakespeare pilgrims in the summer.  A short walk from the station up the hill towards the castle and though a medieval stone arch will get you to the main street, and St. Mary’s lies off a side street, reachable by a few hospitable ale houses that lie temptingly along the route thereto.

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The ensemble Stile Antico in rehearsal in the nave

The church has a rich cultural and music history that is immediately apparent when one enters the building. The nave is commodious and narrows for the quire and the chancel. The difference between nave and chancel is marked, as the nave and tower were destroyed in the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694 and rebuild shortly afterwards. Modern oak choir stalls have been permanently erected in between quire and nave, which is undesirable although perhaps understandable. A glance north from this central position will afford the viewer a glimpse into the Chapel of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, a regiment that was evacuated from Dunkirk and were among the first to land in Normandy on D-Day, 1944, alongside many other conflicts.

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The Chapel of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment

The principal historic interest of the building lies, however, on the northeast side of the building.  Directly before the high altar lie the remains of Thomas de Beauchamp, brother to Queen Catherine Parr, and is was his ancestor, Roger, who founded the church in the early 12th century. The only surviving section of the church from that era is the crypt, and I did not lamentably have the time to visit it whilst in the church. To the East lies, however, the impressive and surprising Beaumont Chapel, currently closed for restoration due to structural complications. A view of the interior can nevertheless be obtained by peering through an opening of the adjacent ‘Dean’s Chapel’, itself a remarkable and tranquil space with a beautiful stained-glass window depicting Mary Magdalene encountering Christ in the garden after his Resurrection.  The Beaumont chapel contains tombs of the family, alongside an ornate wall mural.

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The window of the Dean’s Chapel, installed in 2001

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The Beauchamp Chapel, as viewed from the Dean’s Chapel

The choir is directed by the organist Thomas Corns, a polished and talented organist and a former organ scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, and of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The church boasts a choir of boys and men, and a separate girls’ choir; both are reviewed very positively on their recent recording, ‘Music for our Lady’. A glimpse of the music list was encouraging due to its ambition and variety and a visit to this church for a service and its surroundings is certainly highly recommended.    

St. Peter and St. Paul, Yalding

I visited the village of Yalding on the 22nd March to sing in a concert. It was a delightful spring day and the walk from the road to the north door of the church, though short, was spellbinding. Worn-out cobbles formed the path walled in by a high bank, in which is lodged the entrance to a family tomb.

Family tomb approaching the North door

Family tomb approaching the North door

The church itself dates from the 13th-15th centuries, is a grade I listed and is very much alive today. The interior feels dominated by pillars that divide the nave into a central, north and south aisle, although one can still peer through the gloom to the high altar in the chancel at the east end. An area in the northwest corner of the church, in between two pillars in the North Aisle, was concerted in 2003 into a choir room, toilet zone and kitchen/bar, and has been done with great taste. During my concert there is was a pleasure to see the church alive with people young and old, the bar being a very welcome feature for some, for whom the choral music was perhaps a little mesmerising.

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A singer from the Fieri Consort during rehearsal

 

A walk around the church afforded much pleasure. Spring was starting to show itself in between the grade II listed tombs, and the blossom on the two magnolia trees, whilst not an extraordinary sight in mid-March, provided a delightful contrast with the grey headstones and flourishing greenery. The prospect from the south side of the churchyard over the River Beult was truly a sight to behold, thankfully now flowing normally after the terrible floods that blighted the residents of Yalding over the recent festive season.

 

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Magnolia bloom in the churchyard

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Panorama of the southern prospect

Yalding is a delightful village with two pubs, Indian restaurant, library and post office, and I encountered many hikers exploring the Medway valley during my time there. The community was as friendly as one could ever wish and the view of such history, greenery and a blue sky brushed my the tops of many Kentish oast houses bade for a delightful afternoon and evening.

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