This year our MA course has more mature students, and one of them, Carrie, was handing out flyers for “A Visual and audio exhibition to Commemorate the Centenary of the end of WW1” in Alstonefield – their local history group got some lottery money. I spent the morning of Saturday 10 November fighting with all the talks needed for tomorrow, and it was later than I had hoped before I got away.
Alstonefield is just across the border into Staffordshire (and Lichfield Diocese) – SK133553 – and it would have been a gorgeous drive if the sun had been shining on the autumn leaves. St Peter’s church wasn’t well signposted in the village, but as I walked down I saw that each house where a WW1 soldier had lived was labelled – what a good idea. That must really bring it home to the residents. Nice map available too. I also like the “Homemade refreshments” notice – one for our open days? Church website.
The church was buzzing. Refreshment tables down the centre of the Nave, and displays round the side. I took my time and worked my way round. Some general material, and a lot of specific Village information – they had really done their research.
On one of the boards I read the Vicar’s letter, written after the death of his son Ernest on 9 May 1916. Then I read that his older brother, Wilfred, was killed less than two months later. How do you keep your faith, and minister to your people, after two such blows? How did the younger brother, Newland, feel when he is the only one of the three to return from War? Did he get two devastating letters from his parents while he was serving in France?
The display boards in the south aisle were on top of the simple bench seats. The Cotton family pew, repainted in the early C19 was made for the Charles Cotton senior of Beresford Hall. His son, also Charles, was a friend of Izaak Walton – so you can imagine the author of The Compleat Angler sat in this pew (wishing he was fishing??). I wonder what the family men would think of the pew being guarded by Suffragettes?
The problem with displays is they obscure the furniture! I will have to come back to explore the wonderful two-decker pulpit. It was originally three-deck (any photos?) – imagine the power of standing there and proclaiming. There are carved texts to encourage the preacher, and the names of the churchwardens on the front.
The pulpit and pews are all of a piece – you can imagine the upheaval for a few months while they were installed. Were the parishioners impressed with their new pews, or did they now feel contained? Did they understand the liturgical and theological changes which had them all sat in straight rows, looking up to where the Word of God was being proclaimed? Or did they miss their old familiar benches where they had always sat? At the back the Royal Coat of Arms reminds them who is in charge now.
The church was old when these benches went in. There is a record of St Oswald visiting to dedicate the church in 892. The Chancel arch is simple Norman, so that’s one rebuilding, and there was another in 1590. The Victorian restoration of 1870 failed to remove the pews, and I hope they are safe now – the modern addition has been a rather nice kitchen at the back (I recommend the scones!).
The change is theology is also seen in the Creed board. I didn’t have an explore of the history of the rest of the church – this is certainly one I need to come back to.
The font was also a WW1 memorial this weekend (tastefully done), and a memorial at the other end of life – I wonder if Elizabeth stood here watching her children being baptised in this font.
More to look at outside, but it was getting damp and dark. I will come back.