St. Peter and St. Paul, Kedington

I had the time before a concert on Friday to pop into this sublime building. It is quite simply breathtaking. The Victorians have had their inevitable say in the renovation in the 19th century, but the whole atmosphere and feel of the interior remains remarkably unspoilt. The first part of the church to capture my attention is the children’s school pews at the back, complete with peg hooks. It is like nothing I have seen before in a church, and reminds one that churches always were hubs of community, not merely a ceremonial building used for Sunday Mass. A Minstrel’s Gallery lies between these two sets of pews, that were designed to segregate children by gender. The Master’s seat looks ominously on. One doubts that the lessons were that dynamic.

 

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Children’s School Pews

The church is lit by some bizarre skylights that would be at home in a barn. These are a product of the 19th century but are effective and not too clumsy. They’ve also been beautifully restored. The whole interior, in fact, is tasteful and has not been tampered with or spoilt, as have some famous churches in Suffolk (Framlingham comes to mind). The Barnardiston pew and tombs are untouched, and remind one of Dennington nearer the coast. It is gloriously cluttered. The font lurks awkwardly near a pillar on the north side. Betjeman may have called this a ‘village Westminster Abbey’; it comes with the added delight of a complete lack of insensitive tourists, no entry fee and a feeling of proximity to the past that the Abbey cannot achieve nowadays. It is a well-worn space, and is approachable because of that.

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Font, Nave, Skylights

The village is also delightful. The church seems a hub of the place still. It lies near a brook with a charming meadow path near an old watermill. Pub, shop, new building lie next to 18th century cottages. Beautiful but not affected. This one is a must-see.

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The approach to the Nave. This church is OPEN! Hurrah! 

Reflection 2015

End of year, time for reflection. A year of rehearsals, running, concerts, brompton, tube, lessons, reflections, reading, chaos, learning, mountains, operas. An engagement, planning, excitement. Stress, breakthroughs, new birth. Year goes quickly, starts Norfolk ends Northumberland. One more Dickens to read. 2016 is marriage, new starts, ending and beginning new. I can’t wait.

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Tickencote, St. Peter’s

What remains constant: our museum of weathered stone spread throughout the land. Damp, decaying. Corrugated iron parish halls, donation boxes emptied daily, visitors’ books with joke biros, faded informative wall displays, the past and future.

 

Summed up for me today in one of the last church crawls of 2015. Drive up M11 A1, Beatles music, Today programme, exit and roll downhill. Symmetrical building well-pointed, smooth, sand coloured. Looks 18th century. Chaos of A1 pressing through our ears, church stands stoical, disinterested in 4×4 aggression. Round from south to north, open bird-door like a fruit-cage, scape it along the stone. Even with prior knowledge, nothing can prepare for the breath-taking sensation if seeing that arch up-close. Preserved through the centuries, heart-breaking and warming. A feast for the imagination. Tickencote; don’t drive up the A1 without stopping there one time.

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Norman Chancel Arch at Tickencote

 

Further up the A1, north of Newark and Lincoln, trip down memory lane to Clumber Park. Warm breeze, hundreds of people with mud. In 2010-11 I volunteered in the kitchen garden digging some things. Garden closed today, tearoom open. The chapel is something else. 1880’s unfettered Anglo-Catholicism. Sandstone and spire, a testament to a rejuvenated spirituality of a time of rapid change. The house is gone, tourists and geese reign here. Not in the chapel, however. What peace and what grandeur. 2015 can end with respectful hush.

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Clumber’s Chancel and High Altar seen through the rood screen.

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Interior of Bag Enderby, St. Margaret’s. Visited 13th December, Lincolnshire Wolds. One of my favourites for its stillness and simplicity. Font also well worth a look.

St. Margaret of Antioch, Margaretting

Although I have visited numerous churches over the past months, other musical activities have imposed restraints on my time, preventing me from writing about and photographing them. One of the highlights of the last six months was my second visit to St. Michael’s Church, Stinsford. This involved a stay at Yalbury Cottage (http://www.yalburycottage.com), one of the best meals that I had all year, and a long circular walk from the cottage westwards along the Frome to the church, and tracking back round towards Puddletown Forest, taking in all of the Thomas Hardy curiosities along the way. It is wonderful that such an author can, through his poetry and novels (which are not depressing!) leave such a positive mark on this magical corner of the country, and it is heart-warming to see the church in such good repair.

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Stinsford Parish Church

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DSCF0977 Stinsford Ceiling

Another church, which has withstood the strong easterly winds extremely well, is one in my native Essex. One would think that St. Margaret’s Church, Margaretting, would be largely forgotten. My father and I visited on the morning of Christmas Eve. Like many churches, it was probably built near a (now absent) manor, so stands some way from the village. Moreover, the London to Norwich main line now runs between the church and the village, for which purpose a level crossing has been constructed serving only the church and the former rectory: with trains three minutes at peak time, opportunities to cross the tracks are few and far between!

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St. Margaret’s from the south

Before you do so, collect the key from the cottage on the left (1 Margaretting Hall Cottages) before the crossing. The key is a fantastic article in itself. On entering the church, all the sounds of the A12 disappear and you are plunged into stillness and peace (with the occasional rumble of the Norwich Express). Beyond the quire screen, the east wall immediately grabs your attention. Such intricacy of detail is rarely seen, and it is covered in pargetting (as Simon Jenkins says, more common on cottages than in churches): here are the Magi paying homage to Christ (I recently enjoyed this article on the subject).

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The wooden ceiling of the quire and the nave on the north and south aisles are beautiful and in incredible condition. The east end is, as is regrettably common in churches associated with former landowners, adorned with plaques to the fallen of the 1st and 2nd World Wars. What is apparent from these, however, is the bustle of the church’s community over the last century. One plaque is dedicated to a former Scout Leader, Organist and Choir Master, and another to a former chorister, killed towards the end of WWII. Inscriptions at the back of church show a run of vicars from 1328 until the present day, and the church is still very much alive. The Christmas Crib is immaculate, the tree ornate, the organ, built under the famous wooden tower, giving the appearance of tuning and care, and wooden development in the south porch showing a love from the community and optimism for the future. I have learnt from subsequent research, that this porch has won a design award from the diocese of Chelmsford.

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Scout Leader, Organist and Choirmaster (with my father’s reflection…)

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The south porch

The winter sun was streaming in through the south-facing windows. I have no doubt that there would be a caring congregation in attendance at the 11.30pm midnight mass.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,

Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;

Ring out the thousand wars of old,

Ring in the thousand years of peace.

 

Ring in the valiant man and free,

The larger heart the kindlier hand;

Ring out the darkness of the land,

Ring in the Christ that is to be.

(Tennyson, In Memoriam)

Happy Christmas to all!

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Weak winter light streams in through the windows

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The crib

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Festive flowers

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View from the tranquil churchyard

St. Laurence, Morland

The church of St. Laurence in Morland is remarkable in two ways: firstly, the building is if profound historical interest and secondly, the group of people connected with the church are without doubt as impressive as the building itself.

 

Morland Church from the South-West

Morland Church from the South-West

The stumpy tower that seems to be sinking into the grassy banks of the churchyard was build before the Norman conquest of 1066. There is no trace of an original building that may have been attached to the tower; the present building dates from the following century.

Morland Church from the North-East

Morland Church from the North-East

The nave, chancel and the transepts have not escaped Victorian interference; the redecoration was, however, made with taste and without an abundance of stained glass, leaving the church, whilst it is firmly enveloped by the grassy banks to the south, with a light and airy feel. The J.J. Binns organ from the 1920’s still functions, so I am told, as it did when it was built, and it has required little maintenance.

 

Topiary in the Churchyard

Topiary in the Churchyard

Enough of the building: it is only there, after all, to serve its congregation; and what a congregation has worshipped there over the years! I first entered the church at the age of 11 for the opening service of the 29th Morland Choristers’ Camp. The camp was founded in 1971 by the then Vicar of Morland, Canon Gervase Markham, as he was determined at the time to keep younger children, especially boys, interested in their church choir. Canon Markham sadly passed away in 2007 at the age of 97, but the camp still takes place every summer, attracting a very loyal following of around 100 children each year.

 

In 1999, my first camp, I was seated nervously in the church with one sole friend and dozens of strangers, when the opening sentence of my first said BCP service boomed out from the chancel: ‘O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: let the whole earth stand in awe of him.’ (Psalm 96, vs. 9) Rain pouring down without, utter silence within, I was spellbound. Over the next years, I got to know the community of Morland church through the choristers’ camp, and visited the church with many fond memories as recently as last week, when I went to co-direct the ‘Taste of Morland’ weekend, a pre-camp singing weekend for KS2 children.

 

Canon Gervase Markham

Canon Gervase Markham

Back to the Canon: a brief summary of his life here would never do him justice. Articles such as this, from 2006, will do him much more than I ever could: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hometruths/gervasemarkham.shtml. A man of endless energy and enthusiasm, after his ‘retirement’ from parish ministry, he proceeded to read as many books as possible in the original language, build dry-stone walls in Morland house (he was part of a long line of Markhams, four of which were Sheriffs of Nottingham), further develop the choristers’ camp, alongside a life as a visiting preacher and canon of Carlisle Cathedral and always replying to his correspondence with a fountain pen and ink. This, after an active life as a parish priest and serving as an army chaplain during WWII. Quite an act to follow!

 

David Jones equipped with Hamster Cage during his sermon

David Jones equipped with Hamster Cage during his sermon

Remarkably, he has been followed by some most distinguished individuals: The current vicar, the Revd. Stuart Fyfe is a man of huge energy and a passionate member of the community (and a fine tenor) and the choirmaster, David Jones, is an exceptional being: he runs his own empire a mile to the south of Morland in Newby, where he runs a campsite and has a converted barn, from which he organises numerous events listed here: http://www.newbyendfarm.co.uk/activities.html. It is certainly not usual for an old farmhouse to host an arts festival, a Scottish dancing weekend, a week of folk dancing, two singing events and to be equipped with a two manual pipe organ, two harpsichords and two grand pianos.

Morland Beck, by Newby End Farm

Morland Beck, by Newby End Farm

I am utterly in awe of this parish, and long may it continue to flourish.

Morland beck from within the grounds of Morland House http://www.morlandhouse.net

Morland beck from within the grounds of Morland House
http://www.morlandhouse.net

Good Friday: George Herbert

George Herbert’s Poetry is inspirational and profound regardless of religious standpoint. Here are his musings on Good Friday:

 

O My chief good,

How shall I measure out thy bloud?

How shall I count what thee befell,

And each grief tell?

 

Shall I thy woes

Number according to thy foes?

Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,

Shall all thy death?

 

Or shall each leaf,

Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?

Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe

Of the true vine?

 

Then let each houre

Of my whole life one grief devoure;

That thy distresse through all may runne,

And be my sunne.

 

Or rather let

My severall sinnes their sorrows get;

That as each beast his cure doth know,

Each sinne may so.

 

Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write

Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;

My heart hath store, write there, where in

One box doth lie both ink and sinne:

 

That when sinne spies so many foes,

Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,

All come to lodge there, sinne may say,

No room for me, and flie away.

 

Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,

And keep possession with thy grace;

Lest sinne take courage and return,

And all the writings blot or burn.

St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Taken on Good Friday morning before Mattins.

Saint Mary Woolnoth: T. S. Elliot

On a walk from St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street to Liverpool Street Station last week, I was taken with this view of a church I had not seen before:

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St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

St. Mary Woolnoth from the North-West

 

I then discovered that it is mentioned in Elliot’s ‘Wasteland‘.

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.
There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying, “Stetson!
You who were with me in the ships at Mylae!

 

The sheer volume of churches that surround the Bank of England and the Monument is staggering. Many of them are closed during the week but can, after the correct enquiries are made, be opened. The baroque interior of this church by Nicholas Hawksmoor certainly merits exploration!

Larkin: Church Going

Philip Larkin’s famous poem certainly provokes thought about the purpose of this blog. How long will parish churches survive? What do we look for when we go inside? Why do they attract tourists still? Why are all people silent and reverential inside, even if the building is empty? Larkin poses the problems and threats, but perhaps ends optimistically.

Dennington, Suffolk

Dennington, Suffolk

 

Once I am sure there’s nothing going on

I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

 

Move forward, run my hand around the font.

From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –

Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don’t.

Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

‘Here endeth’ much more loudly than I’d meant.

The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

 

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

And always end much at a loss like this,

Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

When churches will fall completely out of use

What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

A few cathedrals chronically on show,

Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,

And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

 

Or, after dark, will dubious women come

To make their children touch a particular stone;

Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

Advised night see walking a dead one?

Power of some sort will go on

In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

But superstition, like belief, must die,

And what remains when disbelief has gone?

Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

 

A shape less recognisable each week,

A purpose more obscure. I wonder who

Will be the last, the very last, to seek

This place for what it was; one of the crew

That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

Or will he be my representative,

 

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

So long and equably what since is found

Only in separation – marriage, and birth,

And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built

This special shell? For, though I’ve no idea

What this accoutred frosty barn is worth,

It pleases me to stand in silence here;

 

A serious house on serious earth it is,

In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

And that much never can be obsolete,

Since someone will forever be surprising

A hunger in himself to be more serious,

And gravitating with it to this ground,

Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

If only that so many dead lie round.

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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