My name is Ben Vonberg-Clark, and I am a musician based in South London.
This blog began about music and my music explorations, especially to England’s Parish Churches.
Ever since I was a chorister in my local parish church choir, I have had a deep-rooted love of England’s historic churches. My family and I celebrated the dawn of the new millennium by cycling up the hill to St. Peter’s, South Weald and ascending the Norman tower to see the sun rise on the year 2000. Sadly, the cloud in the sky prevented us seeing an actual sunrise, however it was a magical feeling to be able to gaze over the M25 to Canary Wharf on one side, and up to the north towards the countryside on the other, from the haven of an 11th century tower. My love for the building started a long time before that moment: wandering around the churchyard as a 7 year-old junior chorister reading the fading text on the gravestones or deciphering the peeling lead inscriptions on ancient and venerable tombs of the local landlord, whose family have long since departed the area.To my wife’s dismay, we still find ourselves during our holidays in overgrown churchyards, peeling moss from old masonry and reading the maggot-infested inscription long hidden. I cannot explain why; maybe a combination of the wildlife and the picture on my mind’s eye of the erection of the stone with such care, the funeral, the family and the juxtaposition of that against the present.
There is, for me, no such place for reflection and calm as a decaying churchyard, or the moist smell of a country church far away from any civilisation that, whilst it has only one service a month, is nevertheless tended to by loving and caring members of the community, and where one is sure of a warm welcome if greeted by a local resident. As a London dweller, nothing could be further from the throb of the city’s rushing and intoxication than the scene described above, where moss is permitted to grow and, although nature always shows her creeping hand, time seems to slow, if not stop entirely.
As a freelance musician with a lot of my work based around sacred choral music, I have the fortune to spend a large portion of my time in historical churches, be they nestled in between new skyscrapers of the City of London, or in a river valley of the north coastline of Cornwall. All of these buildings and their surroundings speak of a past and present culture and community and are surely worth great and careful attention and consideration.
My qualifications to write upon such a topic are scarce and centred purely on enthusiasm for this genre of pastime. As one of my other hobbies is road cycling, I am able to combine a passion for these buildings with varied cycle routes, thus wedding wholesome and green exercise with adventure and discovery. I hope that this blog promotes simple pleasure and admiration for England’s rich heritage. Whilst my inspiration is books like Simon Jenkin’s ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’ and Sir Roy Strong’s ‘A Little History of the English Country Church’, I hope to provide a different take on take on a similar topic, more promoting the type of lifestyle that these building represent, rather than describing their architectural detail.